Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Day 23

I am writing this from my new room, a rather large one at that. My host family is great. Bessie (my “mother”) is an inspector for the Ministry of Education. She is responsible for checking in on several dozen schools in the area, ensuring they are following rules and doing their jobs. Joseph, Bessie’s boyfriend, works for the city, implementing a new data system that connects residents, utility companies, and the city. It’s a pretty interesting idea and seems to be working well. Bessie has two kids, eight year old Hermanas who is excited about everything and very interested in everything I own. Marcella is twelve and seems to really enjoy a tattered keyboard which is missing most of the black keys. She is on holiday from school in South Africa and will be returning home after Christmas. Hermanas goes to school here in Omaruru.

The house is located just a few steps from the TRC, one of the training sites we will be using over the next month. It’s also pretty much downtown, within a short walk to the store, bank, a stones throw from the police office, and just a twenty minute walk from the rest camp the PeaceCorps group has taken over. This is a very nice setup for me since I can leave most of my valuables locked up at the rest camp while keeping them readily available. The house is a typical western-style house with four bedrooms, a dining area, sitting room (with the satellite TV), and kitchen. The two kids share a room, and my room has a lock on the door which I’m happy to have. The yard is very nice and manicured. The front yard hosts a large desert garden with a variety of cactus and other dry-climate plants. The back yard contains a small house that is rented out, a patio, and (of course) the barbecue. The whole house is very clean and inviting, they even have a washing machine! I’m going to be very comfortable here, and I can tell that my hosts are a good personality fit for me.

My first day here was a fun one. I didn’t get picked up until 17h30, after which I got the tour and met the family. I then took the kids on a walk back to the rest camp to pick up some items I left in my bunk. After the long walk, I sat with Joseph at the barbeque and talked for a while. We watched a very popular Spanish drama (dubbed in English) which closely resembled a daytime soap opera but seemed to captivate the whole family. Dinner was steak, grilled cheese sandwiches (with onions and tomatoes), and beans; all very good. But the evening was too short and now I’m very ready for bed.

Earlier today Jay and I spoke with Naf (our Education and IT coordinator) about what we will be doing for training over the next few weeks. He proposed that we spend some time at the TRC in Omaruru this week training their staff on computer skills. The next two weeks do model school, which means we will teach some formal classes to kids who are out of school but need to do some remedial work or want to earn a certificate. Jay and I will coordinate computer classes for the youth as well as adults in the community.

We spoke with Naf about the importance of visiting other computer room sites to get a feel for how things are run here, we think we made a good case. If we get what we really want, we’ll spend two days in Windhoek visiting the SchoolNet HQ, Microsoft, the Ministry, various other computer and internet companies, computer education service organizations, and some schools with labs. We’d also like to spend three days visiting other school sites with labs to talk to the teachers and find out how they are being used. Hopefully we’ll be able to do at least some of that.

Today was a completely lazy day. Other than a very informative morning session on the history of the education system in Namibia, nothing needed to be done. We napped, packed, played cards, and otherwise blew time. The rest of the week will be pretty laid back as well. Tomorrow Jay and I being the classes for the TRC employees, but not until we’ve fixed all their computers.

It’s going to be very strange living with another family. It’s a bit awkward since I’m supposed to be treated as a member of the family, but don’t know these people very well yet. Bessie has assured me that the entire house is now mine, and to make myself at home, to help myself to any food I want, and to come and go as I need. The kids are great, although Hermanas is defiantly a seven-year-old, still learning patience. It’s fun living with kids. At least it’s fun now.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Day 22

Day 22 (28-Nov 20h13)

Back to training again. It’s almost like last week never happened. The routine was so familiar to us all that it was almost comfortable. Almost. We were inundated with last minute paperwork, handouts, and information. By 16h00 we were ready to skip town, but yet another hour of surveys, power of attorneys, and reviews were ahead of us. There was even a 19h00 meeting sprung on us, just in case we were thinking about trying to pack for the morning departure that was scheduled after two morning sessions. It’s crazy. I’m just glad I don’t leave tomorrow until 17h00, so I’ve got plenty of time to pack tomorrow.

One of the activities earlier today was “cross the line”, where everyone who fits the description or question answered walks to the other side of the room. It was surprising to see how few had major problems, but how many had minor ones. Some great stories were told, the best by far was a health volunteer who found a cobra snake at her feet. After running and screaming, someone came to aid with a shot gun, making quite a big mess of blood and guts which was all captured on camera. Great stuff.

I’m not going to spend much time on this entry. There will be time later in the week to write. For now the only update I have is that tomorrow I’ll be moving down the street to a local’s house to live for the next four weeks. I’ll be within walking distance from the camp, which means I’ll be able to get internet access easily. My next post will have the scoop on my host family.

I’ve got the internet café going again. It may run pretty late tonight as many want take this last opportunity to send updates. Most form our group is going out of town, not far, but far enough to make it difficult to get Internet. It’s us IT and teacher trainers that get the lucky homes downtown so that we can learn Afrikaans and be close to the resource center.

We had our first ET’s (early termination) today. Kim, our beloved female IT gal decided that the PeaceCorps was not what she was looking for at this point in her life. We’ll miss her a lot. I never got the chance to get to know the other volunteer that dropped out, but many did and will miss her as well.

According to the statistics, we should see four more ET’s before January.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Day 21

Day 21 (27-Nov 17h40)

Wow, it’s been three weeks since this journey started. I have to say that things are starting to slow down, finally. Last week it seemed like months had passed since I left the states. Today, it seems about the same time. Diminishing returns, linear regression, inverse square, whatever the function is, it’s slowing down.

We are all together again. I had to pull myself away form the group because the intensity of conversation was a bit too much. There are so many stories, and most are telling them with passion and great interest. It’s like an internet chat room, sixty conversations all taking place at the same time. In fact, traditional methods of communication are insufficient to handle the influx of new information, and new channels have broken through. It’s now common to hear a story you told just minutes ago re-told to another group on your behalf. We are so starved for information about each other that all it takes is the obligatory “did you hear about Jay and the spider?” and the story has to be told, with or without Jay.

By far most of the stories are good. It seems that everyone has had positive experiences and is looking forward to getting to work. I have heard several people who have been intimidated by the accomplishments of previous PCV’s, given a high standard to uphold. I’ve also heard the dirty house story, the “my boss doesn’t care much” story, and the “I’m the only white guy/girl” story many times over in different contexts. Amy had the best “welcome to the village” story, she arrived to the whole school holding a sign with her name welcoming here; singing, dancing, the whole works. The funniest story goes to Mike who was solicited for money and food through a broken window while taking a shower. He took second place as well with the account of one student who, upon witnessing him exit the van when he first arrived, remarked “looks like it’s going to be a white Christmas after all!” Coppelia had the strangest (this one I heard second hand), she met the governor who greeted her with a hand shake; one hand extended, the other in his crotch. I still haven’t heard the full “Jay and the spider” story, but I’m sure I will soon. Aaron and Greg tied for dirtiest accommodations. Matt by far gets coolest location as he’s right next to a wildlife preserve. Chester had the best language story; his supervisor taught him the Afrikaans translation for “I don’t take shit from nobody!” And the stories are still coming. It will be a long night.

I spent the morning waiting for the gate to open. I tried to leave at seven and found the front gate trumping my plans. It was still closed at eight, but nine rolled around and they miraculously let me pass. I read in the park, enjoyed a candy bar (they have THE BEST chocolate here, Cadberry), played some computer games, and eventually was picked up and dropped off at the PeaceCorps HQ.

I was happy to find that the PeaceCorps lounge has high speed internet, so I know I can get it there no matter what. It’s a bit of a walk from my home, but doable. The PC lounge was a mess. Books, trinkets, sleeping bags, power adapters, and random bits of junk lined the two rooms. Apparently the system works something like this; when you first arrive, grab whatever you want, when you leave, empty you backpack in the corner. I did manage to find an interesting book which I took. I’ll get plenty of opportunities to rummage through the piles in the future.

After a three hour comby ride with 13 of use crammed in very close quarters, I was happy to arrive at camp. Dinner was waiting for us, and after a quick session on text books, we were set free. Now is story time, speaking of which, I think I’m ready to get another dose.

Day 20

Day 20 (26-Nov 11h50)

Wow, what a day; So much to write. What I was expecting to be a middle-of-the-day event turned out to take the whole thing. Mr. Hoxobeb (aka Absalom) invited me to a church choir party, which I accepted earlier this week. I decided to take a taxi to the school (where we would meet) rather than be picked up because I wanted to get the experience. Little did I know just how much of an experience it would turn out to be…

I started the day by sleeping in. This was a difficult chore since I went to bed no later than 9:30, but sleeping until 7 was accomplished. I had the most vivid dream that the PeaceCorps sent all of us home for a week to visit our families before CBT (community-based training). I don’t remember the details anymore, but I do remember waking up surprised that I was still in this flat.

Once up, I laid in bed for another half an hour. The fact that I needed to accomplish nothing collided with knowing the inevitable work we will be doing in the next four weeks, and I took this morning to be as lazy as possible. After finally getting up, cleaned, and dressed, I walked downtown to find an Internet Café. This was a little more challenging than I thought. I picked up some batteries for my camera at the corner store, which had a coffee shop attached, however I couldn’t find the entrance to the coffee shop. I could see people inside, but no door. Not wanting to look like a tourist, I just kept walking, which to my surprise led me down a street I wasn’t anticipating on going down. Not wanting to look like a tourist, I just kept going, pretending like I knew what I was doing. I managed to make a large loop, finding a nice indoor mall along the way, but no Internet. Once I made it back to the store with the coffee shop, I went inside (not wanting to look like a tourist standing like a dope on the corner). I managed by sheer luck to notice the store went back further on the left side than it seemed at first. Daring to step into the unknown, I walked past isles of candy and chocolate to a hot food deli along the far left wall. I stopped to pretend I was inspecting the food options and saw in the corner of my eye the opening to the coffee shop. At last! I purchased a coke (when they say coffee shop, they mean just coffee, no mochas or espresso) and sat to read. Oh, and no Internet.

After that long detour to nowhere, I enjoyed a bit of my Stephen King novel, then headed back to my flat. I needed to speak with the head master about some of the problems with my flat (no light in the bathroom, leaky faucet, door to patio locked, etc.) and figured I could ask him about the internet. When I hauled my lazy ass back up that hill I was disappointed to learn that the head master was, yet again, marking exams (he had been doing so the last two days when I tried to get a hold of him). This time I left him a note detailing the problems and will leave it at that.

What better way to round out the morning than to sleep some more? None; so when I got back to my room, I laid down and took a quick nap. It’s so easy to nap here. The heat drains you during the middle of the day. One needs only to lay down and the sleep just comes. Once it was time to walk back to town and catch a taxi, I shook the sleep from my body, put on my nice sun hat, filled up my water bottle (I still haven’t managed to drink enough water yet), and headed out. Hailing the taxi was the easy part, enduring the ride: a whole other story.

So traffic in Namibia is quite a bit different than what I’m used to in the states. In the states, when you come up to a big red stop sign, you stop. Here in Namibia, stop signs are more like yield signs, traffic slows just enough to tell who is going next; stopping is nowhere in the definition. Also in the states, when you have one lane and you want to pass, you have to wait until there is no traffic coming toward you, then carefully pass. Here in Namibia, if you want to pass, let’s say a huge, wide garbage truck, you just do it, traffic or no, using parking space on the side of the street in available. On coming cars are expected to do a little swerving to accommodate these maneuvers. Lastly, in the states a car always yields to pedestrians. Here in Namibia, pedestrians are obstacles, and the logic is something like if you don’t want to die, move. Pulling into parking lots, crossing intersections, wherever you find pedestrians you find cabs pulling right in front of them. It’s amazing more people aren’t hit by cars here, although maybe I just haven’t seen it yet.

Picture this: you hail a white sedan, probably a late eighties model, rust lining the hood and doors, the taxi sign taped with packing tape to the dash. After getting in, you tell the driver where you want to go, and he nods. Everything’s cool, right? Wrong, you see if the back seat is empty, then there is a lot more work to do. My cabby drove up and down International Drive (the main strip here) twice to look for more passengers before leaving town. Even then, we cruised down side streets at blistering speeds (dodging pedestrians and slowing only for stop signs) rather than take the free way, just to find someone who wants to ride on the roof (well, that’s the only thing I could think of…). When you finally get close to where you want to go (all the time passengers are being dropped off and picked up) you only then find out the cabby has no idea where you want to go. In this case, neither did I. I had seen the school before, but never navigated to it. With the help of a passenger and some poor dude on the street, we eventually made it. Needless to say, I was happy to get out of that car. On the bright side, the whole trip was just six bucks (like 90 cents US).

Whew. I was feeling a little sick after the ride to the school but the day had barely begun. Absalom was waiting for me there, and after a half hour tour of the Windhoek getto (called the “location”) looking for various choir members who where all “not ready yet”, we we’re dropped off at someone’s house to await those not ready (i.e. the girls).

The house was cement, cracked from floor to tin ceiling, covered in what I counted to be at least six coats of different color paint. Inside, the door frames marked where solid wall once was, but time and elements had done their work, leaving only rounded edges above the doors. On one wall prominently hung the electrical box, which is a pre-pay system. Residents go to the local market to purchase electricity codes, which they type into their boxes to get more time. The water works in a similar way, but I wasn’t able to see it. The room was actually quite clean, not a trace of dirt was visible on the bare cement floor. Four arm chairs adorned the main room, tattered beyond any possible resale value. There was a TV, sitting on a simple wood stand, and constituted the most elaborate and expensive thing on the property.

I was welcomed into this house by the owner, who took my by the hand, looked right into my eyes, and said “Come in! Please! Come in and sit!” I obliged, introduced myself to the half-dozen bodies in the room, and took an empty seat. No sooner had I sat, everyone else jumped up and started bustling about. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I thought it best to say put until given further instructions. Two kids, no older than seven sat with me. We talked a bit, and I took their pictures as they shared a piece of raw meat. I showed them their picture on the camera, and they immediately asked “when do we get it?” referring to a copy of their picture. I had to disappoint them.

Soon it was time to leave the house. I learned that the commotion was over lost keys to the large blue van parked outside. We all piled into the van (they insisted I sit in front) and went to the local market. I accompanied them as they collected food for the dinner. This market was different than others I have been in. The isles were barely three feet wide, and pallets of food were plopped down anywhere additional space could be found. To make it even more interesting, the place was packed. I spent the entire time in the market pushed up against strangers. It took me a while before I realized that “excuse me” was not necessary in this place. You just push through.

Now about 13h30 (an hour and half after meeting Absalom at the school), we arrived at the park where the church choir party was to take place. Absalom approached two security guards posted just inside the park to let them know what was planned. The guards informed us that no cooking was permitted at the park. After a few phone calls to the park manager, we found ourselves without a place to eat as the guards would not relent. We ended up going to one of the choir member’s houses nearby to have the party.

Now this place was truly amazing. This time the first thing I noticed was not the house, but the owner, a little old lady that barley came up to my elbows. She was blind due to some sort of disease, and here eyes seemed sunken. She wore a long flowery dress of green, white, and yellow, and had a healthy look to her, despite her years of at least seventy (very old in Namibian terms). I introduced myself, and before long I was being whisked to the back yard. This house was much like the first, made of cement probably back in the late fifties when the south African government instituted apartide, forcing all black and colored people into “locations” outside the cities. The foundations for the house were exposed due to decades of tromping feet, high winds, and land-scraping rains. The entire property was no bigger than a foundation for a three bedroom house in the states, maybe sixty feet long and forty feet wide. In this property stood a three bedroom house (very small), a good sized back yard with a large tree in the center, a small shack where one of the residents lived, and an outhouse. On every edge sprawled a make-shift fence composed of bed springs, construction rebar, sheet metal, and wood pallets. You know that saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? Well, this is where the other man lives.

We sat on amazing diversity of seating contraptions; metal chairs, barrels, empty paint cans, a car wheel (the metal part), some bricks, and the good old up-side-down bucket. Everywhere on the ground protruded rocks that had endured enough weathering to convince me they were the tops of large boulders. Watching the two year olds run around in this yard should have put my nerves on edge, but knowing that this was life here, and walking around barefoot on a near gravel surface was normal. I do shudder to think of what kind of damage a small rock would do to the head of a falling child.

This yard was clean; well kept. There was no trash laying about, and even the berries that recently fell from the solitary tree had been raked up into a neat pile. Everything in the yard had a purpose. From the assortment of seating options to the old tarp used as a play mat for the toddlers; from the orphaned seat cushions used as child seats to the half of a metal barrel used as the barbeque.

The kids kept themselves busy playing with a handful of toys: a small ball, a small doll, and as many sticks as could be snatched from the tree when adults weren’t looking. The kids really enjoyed eating a home made popsicle-like treat made from ice, sugar, and some sort of flavoring all poured into sandwich bags and frozen. The kids would first soften the bag by beating each other with them, then make a small hole in one of the ends and squeeze out the contents. A two year old enjoyed playing the same game I remember playing with Cheli, holding a cell phone to the ear and pretending to talk to someone. Most of the older youth (teens and pre-teens) played with the younger kids on and off, and there was never a moment they were bored.

Most people in this group spoke some English, but only a few could manage a conversation with it. I spent a better part of the afternoon sitting in a chair, watching the kids play, watching the adults make jokes, and watching clouds go by. It was a pretty hot day, and constant adjustments had to be made in seating in order to stay in the shade. While the food was being prepared, we also waited for some choir members who had not shown up yet. It wasn’t until nearly five (17h00) that the ceremonies began.

First, there was singing, wonderful singing. What made it amazing was the language these Darmara people speak. Imagine a typical church choir, harmonies created with bass, altos, and sopranos. Now add to that an assortment of clicks which come in varying speeds and intensities, depending on which part of the choirs is making them. Also add a unique time signature where it seemed that every fourth measure was cut in half. Tapping your feet to it was easy, but counting beats was impossible. The range of the choir was impressive. The bass had a solid deep tone that stirred in the gut. The sopranos had chillingly high pitched tones that closely resembled squealing, though always on note. The songs were church songs, and you could easily pick out the words “Jesus”, “Hallelujah”, and “Amen”. They were amazing singers.

After singing came praying. After praying came speeches. None of this I understood. I had to watch the person across from me to take cues on when to bow my head. Luckily, all prayers ended with “Amen” so I was never left behind with my eyes closed. Once the ceremony was over, the choir held their annual vote for offices. A new choir leader, treasurer, and so on were nominated and voted on. This all took about an hour. After new officers were chosen, dancing began. This was great fun to watch. First they formed two lines, chanting as one person at a time jumped in the middle and shook a little booty. Then, they formed a circle and danced around with great fun. Describing the dances here would do them no justice whatsoever, so I’m leaving it at this: the dancing was half tradition, half plain old fun. It was very entertaining.

After dancing came certificate presentations, which I was asked to aid with. After massacring half the names (and drawing endless laughter, which I’m sure is why they wanted me to read them) it was time for the final ceremonies. The choir board were asked to come to the middle where they all made some speeches, presented a gift to the head lady, and finally, after much ado, and nearly seven o’clock, we ate.

I was presented with a plate of food that seemed to weigh at least five pounds. In the center was a six-inch long, two inch thick sausage, which sat on a thick steak, next to the fist-sized meat ball. All this was cuddled by a scoop of potato salad and some sort of red vegetable with a sour taste. Oh, and the whole thing was topped with a small loaf of French-like bread, split down the middle and heavily buttered. It all tasted amazing, but I could only down half the steak and half the sausage before my stomach started screaming “whoa there buddy! Remember the bus!!” and I stopped.

I had a short conversation with one of the band members who filled me in on a lot of what happened earlier. He also told me that this choir, formed in 1997, tours all of Namibia and other parts of southern Africa; a sort of evangelical tour. They sing songs and perform dramas about stories in the Bible and “spread the good news.” Most I talked to made it very clear that they were Lutherans, not to be confused with the Catholics who instituted indulgences some centuries ago, thus forever marking themselves as ungodly.

When sunset came, I knew it was really time to get going. I have to say that as much as I enjoyed the whole experience, I really was looking forward to getting in the cab and heading home. So many faces, so many people, so many stories. Even now, as I type, I’m leaving out half the day; things that would just take too long to record; the drunk guy trying to convince me to go out drinking with him, the old guy on the street who wanted my chocolate bar, the fire in the foothills that lacked something… oh yes, a gaggle of fire trucks, planes, and helicopters like in the states. So many stories, such a long day.

The cab ride home was uneventful, although the cabbie tried to charge me too much. I wasn’t up for an argument, so I compromised at ten bucks. And now, after a twenty minute call with my parents, an hour and half writing this journal entry, I’m looking forward to a couple of episodes of Family guy to round out the night.

Tomorrow I meet some of the others at the PeaceCorps HQ downtown to get a ride back to Omaruru. Back to the ranch. I wonder what stories will be told tomorrow night…

Day 19

Day 19 (26-Nov 7h30)

Another great day. The days seem so short here! After meandering a bit downtown, I met up with Mr. Gallant and the school custodian/mechanic who came to fix the locks on two of my doors. That took nearly two hours, after which I headed to school and worked in the computer lab.

I found a small piece of gold in the lab- a syllabus for computer skills made by ICDL (International Computer Drivers License), a British company that promotes computer literacy world-wide and especially in Africa. I’m planning on using this syllabus as the core for the class structure next year. This is exactly what I needed, something solid I could use to craft lessons around without resorting to starting from scratch.

After school, all the teachers had an end-of-year party at one of their houses. We all crammed into the comby (15-passenger van that’s about half the size of the US 15-passenger van) and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out and talking. It was great to get a chance to get to know some more teachers. I’m starting to recognize their faces now, which is very comforting as I was sure this was an insurmountable task; so many new faces all at once.

The last of us left around 17h00 after I helped the host with some computer problems, and I spent the rest of the evening reading the syllabus and dreaming about how the class will run next year. I’m out of movies (didn’t bring that many), so I had to resort to old episodes of “The Family Guy”, a very off-beat comedy, for entertainment.

Something of note: the house we had the party at was located in a formerly white community. This neighborhood was very nice; wide streets, gates, tall trees, and an impressive view. All of Windhoek is like this, categorized primarily by the skin color of its previous residence. In the case of formerly white communities, many blacks and coloreds have moved in. But with formerly black or colored communities, they have changed very little.

There is a great deal of concern about corruption in the government here as well. In a local instance, the Hage Geingob High School (the school I’ll be working at) is supposed to have three new classrooms built by the ministry. Foundations were laid, but before any more work was done, the ministry-employed project manager was investigated for fraud, which stopped all work. The case is still pending; a rich ministry official dodging fraud allegations while students at the school have classes outside, the school forced by the ministry to take in the students that would have filled these unfinished classrooms.

Only two days left in Windhoek. Today (Saturday) I go with Mr. Hoxobeb to a church choir party; I’m not sure exactly what that entails, but I assume there will be some singing. After that, I plan on spending some time in my kitchen cleaning and washing dishes, leaving as little incentive as possible for the current inhabitants to stick around. The various bugs are nearly vanquished from my flat now, the only visitors are the ones that fly in through the windows, which are pretty much always open.

Earlier yesterday I really wanted to just stay here and start working, skipping the PeaceCorps training that is coming up. Now, I’m ready to leave, to get some perspective, and learn a bit more Afrikaans. The teachers were all very impressed with my Afrikaans, limited as it was, and I look forward to being able to converse with them in something other than Namlish. Namlish is the Namibian version of English (a joke), and takes some getting used to. Many of the more fluent speakers have a strong British accent, and there are many words and phrases that make no sense to me now. For instance, if you want something done now, you say “now now”, because one “now” just doesn’t cut it here. Also, formalities that are only used for show in the States (Sir, Mam, Gentleman) are used regularly here. It’s Namlish, and it’s just different enough to leave you silent, while everyone else laughs at a joke, wondering what the heck the punch line was.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Day 18

Day 18 (24-Nov 19h51)

Another great day. After going to bed early again, I was wide awake at six. The sounds of youth getting ready for school are not as disturbing as you may think, but they do rouse the senses; feet pattering down halls, shoes clapping against pavement as learners ascend and descend stairs, morning pleasantries exchanged in a foreign tongue, it all has a homey feel to it.

After writing some emails out to send later, Mr. Gallant (Science and Biology teacher) came to pick me up in the school van. The adventure started early when he was unable to get the van started after waiting for me to come down. We played with it for nearly an hour, thinking it was the van’s security system which disconnects the ignition when armed. Since the door locks didn’t work properly, we assumed there was something wrong with the disarming mechanics, we were proven wrong later. A phone call to school procured for us another teacher, Mr. Hoxobeb (English, Damara, and History teacher, and yes, the vertical line is part of his name, it’s a click) who took us to the mechanic. The mechanic told us that they did not work on our particular brand of security system, so we drove twenty minutes to the alarm manufacturer. There, we found a nice mechanic who followed us back to my place to asses the problem. Any ideas what it was? If you guess the battery, you’d be correct! We jump started the van and drove it to school. Later, Mr. Gallant found out the battery was dry (no salt water), and once it was refilled, worked like a charm.

Morning antics completed, I spent the rest of the school day in the computer lab. There I located more places on the server that the previous volunteer stored music. I believe I have uncovered more than 60 gigs of music in various places, the server holding the majority of it. The server’s capacity is only 60 gigs and nearly three quarters of it is used by music. In addition, many services are not being used (exchange, AD groups, Group Policies, Backups, and DFS just to name a few). Sincerely, it will be fun rebuilding the network in January.

The computer lab is actually quite nice. I don’t recall describing it before, so here it is. There are four rows of glass-top desks with monitors sunk inside them. The computers are Dell mini-towers and pretty fast by even today’s standards. There are two air conditioning (called air-con here) units on the wall opposite the door, and a large table greets you as you enter. To the left of the entrance is a doorway to my new office which houses the servers and enough desk space to put one, maybe two elbows. I hope to consolidate the servers to create a bit more work space back there. I have a personal air-con unit in my office, very nice. There is a white board in the front of the room and two post boards at each end. It’s going to be fun filling the walls with stuff. I’ve already got an idea of how to display class progress throughout the term. There are enough motion detectors, entry sensors, and silent alarm triggers to make you feel like there’s also some gold in the floor no one told you about. But the security is necessary, break-ins are a weekly occurrence. Just last Sunday someone cut the metal cage around the window, but ran off when the alarm was tripped after breaking in.

The computer lab is the only room on campus with air-con, so I feel very lucky. I’ll be working with resources that represent a fortune in a room that’s cozier than most feel all year; I feel a little spoiled.

After school, I spent some time with Mr. Hoxobeb who is going to be a lab assistant and is eager to learn as much as possible about computers and networks. He had some great input as to what the teachers would like to see this next year. The top of the list was after school lab hours, some of which should be dedicated to teacher training.

About two ‘o clock, both Mr. Hoxobeb and Mr. Gallant took me out into the city to get dinner. We stopped at a market to pickup a meal, which we then took out of town to a small picnic area, nestled in a large valley with Idaho-esc mountains on all sides. On one side the mountain range shot up out of the desert floor like the bunching of carpet when you stop too fast. On the other side a conglomeration of isolated mountains, some topped with enormous boulders and rock precipices. In the valley, thousands of small trees and brushes in which hid wart hogs, whatever they call the deer here, free-ranging cattle, and baboons. That’s right, baboons. I saw at least a dozen of them on our drive in and out of the valley. They climb the trees and sit at the tops watching the cars go by. It was pretty cool.

The three of us had a very enjoyable meal and conversation, after which we went on a short walk. On our way back into town, thunderstorms rolled through, dumping more of that thick rain. This time though, the ground was already damp, and after twenty minutes of constant down pouring, you could watch the water start to collect into rivulets, streams, and small rivers. It was amazing how fast the water poured across the ground, a stark contrast to the way the ground handled the short bursts of rain yesterday. Now I know why all those deep dry river beds are so cautiously guarded.

I have enjoyed my evening alone. While I thoroughly enjoyed the company of new friends today, it takes a great deal of effort to stay pleasant, smile, introduce yourself to every family member and friend-of-a-friend they happen upon; I was glad to have some down time.

I took a bath. It was hot. I think baths will be more enjoyable in the winter months, but nevertheless the bathtub is large enough to accommodate me, quite a feat for a tub. I arranged my laptop at the end of the tub, with speakers on either side and watched part of an episode of Firefly before the heat finally got to me. I took a picture of this setup and will post as soon as possible.

And now the sun retreats as I enjoy a cool breeze by my window. There are a few small birds playing some sort of flying game outside, singing pleasantly. The sky is a deep red, reflecting the remaining shards of light through thick, moist clouds. It’s a wonderful end to a stormy evening, though distant thunder reminds me that the weather is a pawn to no one; the storms will return soon. I find comfort in the storms now, understanding their important place in bringing respite from this season’s blaze. Perhaps the summer won’t be that bad, so long as there’s a storm on the horizon. It used to be that storms in life brought perspective to forgetful minds, but here in Africa the storms, temporarily blotting out the intolerable, are a welcomed challenge.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Day 17

Day 17 (23-Nov 18h50)
What a contrast to yesterday! Even this morning, I was on the edge, now I feel so much better! I was picked up at eight this morning and taken to the school. There, I pretty much spent the whole day in the computer lab. I met several learners who have been very active in the computer lab, they helped me clean. I got a great deal of information from them as to what went on before and what they want to do in the future. The gist is this: they haven’t done a great deal, and want to learn as much as possible, playing games along the way. It’s going to be great working with and getting to know these youth.
The computer lab is in poor shape. Each computer has different software installed, and two of them are loaded to the brim with music. That, apparently, was Chris’ hobby, ripping CD’s that the learners brought onto the computers. Chris was the last volunteer to work here. I have pieced together that Chris was a good guy, but didn’t stay organized. Even the learners told me they noticed the computer lab getting dirty and disorganized, and wanted to learn more in classes.
So the bar has been set very low. As long as we’re not playing limbo, I should come through with great results.
Now, I’m getting organized. I’ve taken home what useful paperwork I could find. The computer office was a complete mess, and the only two organized binders I could find were irrelevant: one from years ago, the other from Chris’ previous post in the north. After gleaning what I can from them, I’m going to start on a flexible syllabus. It’s an idea I see in my head, but don’t yet know how to organize into words and action. The ultimate goal is to have enough detail planned so that more advanced learners are constantly challenged, while basic concepts are continuously introduced. Basically, it’s the youth who run the class.
Anyway, during the day I was visited by some Americans who are doing a study-abroad program. They are having a thanksgiving meal and invited me- I think I’ll go. After school, Hanna treated me to sand winches and a ride to the market to get more food and supplies. Hanna is completely awesome. She’s a great principle and a wonderful person. Her house is a hostel in itself; she houses youth in the area that don’t have family or need a place to stay. She’s also very active in church (her husband is a pastor) and women’s groups. She has the calm and thoughtful personality that I enjoy working with.
There were rainstorms today. It came without warning: enormous drops of water, first falling intermittently like warning shots across the bow, then in torrents like an invading army. It happened just as I was about to walk the 30 feet from the computer lab to the office. By the time I got to the office, I was drenched.
It continued to rain on and off like that most of the day. On the drive to the market, it hit again. It was very humerous watching the locals run in the rain. They looked like marathon runners, pacing themselves in moderate jog, it looked almost as if they were out for a daily run before work. Distances are so great out here that a flat-out run would do no good, thus an increase from walk to brisk jog is all that is required during the rain.
I also saw more of the location on the drive. Lines of houses made of metal siding and rotting wood. Some houses were pieced together with so many different materials that they looked like artwork, nearly assembled for viewing pleasure. Hanna gave me some background information on these areas. The government is re-settling people here from areas where it is too crowded or there are no services. In these areas, streets are blazed, lights are put up, cement out houses installed, and lots allocated. Most of the people who are relocated to these areas are jobless, and spend much of their days performing mundane tasks for little money. Out on the streets, chickens and roosters walk about, not aware that the houses the return to each night will, on one of those nights when the daily rations are not enough, turn them into a meal.
Never the less, the people here are still wonderful. As we passed, people smiled and waved, fully aware of what is going on, and making as much as possible out of what they have. It was difficult seeing all this. Especially after passing the nearby textile plant, which, as Hanna informed me, is owned by a multi-national corporation, undoubtedly taking advantage of the newly placed jobless population to pay such poor wages that food is barely affordable. It still is difficult to think about the countless thousands that are right now, outside my window, dealing with leaks in their roofs and splitting a pittance of food between a dozen family members. I’m not sure how to reconcile these thoughts, except to say that I am here because I was asked and because I am needed. I will do my part, for what it’s worth, and that is as much as I can do.
The rain is now a little more familiar, dribbling down in a monotonous tone that resembles its origin, a solid-grey sky. It’s cooled, but it seems no one is here to enjoy it. The birds have all taken shelter and are keeping to themselves, the youth have turned to entertainment inside their dorms, and even the city seems to have slowed down. There are no puddles here. The parched earth is thirsty enough to gulp every drop of water it receives, leaving none to collect. The result is an unnerving scene, massive amounts of water that drench the body, but utterly disappear into the ground. The horizon that used to display great mountains of distant clouds has now been engulfed by the grey. It’s now the rainy season in Windhoek.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Day 16

Day 16 (Nov-22 15h50)
Well, it finally came; the moment I’ve been dreading. It happened after a long drive to Windhoek with my supervisor, who took a detour to pick up her father and daughter. We stopped by the school where I will be working and where Hanna, my supervisor lives. It was a typical school for a poor neighborhood. Shanty houses lines the streets in all directions. Attempted break-in’s at the computer lab are a weekly occurrence, though enough steel and electronics have been employed to sufficiently protect the equipment. After that, they dropped me off at my hostel where I will be living for the next two years. It’s not what I was expecting. One room, and a kitchen down a hall, which used to be shared but is all mine now. The previous PeaceCorps volunteer left the place a mess, dirt and trash everywhere. The bathroom was… bad. One almost expended roll of toilet paper was all I could find. The lock to the patio doesn’t work so I can’t get outside. The walls are like paper, and I can hear the teens that live in this hostel running up and down stairs as if they were in my room.
After assuring Hanna I would be alright, and arranging for a pickup tomorrow morning, they left (Hanna and her husband) and I sat on the corner of the cot. There, in the corner of a large room with lights that don’t work, decorated only with a table, two chairs, and two small cots, inhabited by enough small bugs to make me squirm; there the moment came. What am I doing here? What have I done? It swept me like a tidal wave, and I felt trapped on the edge of the bed, afraid to look up. The gravity of this whole thing I’m doing here in Africa had finally pulled my defenses down. I had a cry, and felt better afterwards.
The room is a very light blue. There’s a large built-in closet on one wall, filled with various items left behind; electric clippers, magazines, brochures and pamphlets, some DVD’s and CD’s, a fan, and more. The room is roughly thirty feet by fifteen, and feels huge. A small table sits on one end with the door to the hallway. Two cots sit side-by-side next to the window of the opposite end. Across from the closet is the bathroom, complete with a soaker tub, toilet, sink, and a walk-in (door-less) shower. Now that I have cleaned the tile, swept the cobwebs clean, evicted the various insects (some are still hiding), and took a good long time scrubbing the toilet, it’s not so bad. I still have to clean the tub and the shower, but progress has been made.
The flat is located on the second story of a four story hostel situated in a campus up in the hills overlooking Windhoek. This hostel houses students at Windhoek High School, a predominantly white school. Before independence, this high school was white-only. It’s considered the best and most expensive school in Namibia. My room is behind two locked doors, the first gets you into the hall, where four doors lead to three rooms and the kitchen. One room is empty, I occupy one, and in the last room resides my only neighbor who teaches at WHS. The fourth door is the kitchen, which is supposed to be mine only. The door to my room from the hall locks as well, so I feel very safe here. My neighbor is nice, I met him earlier.
It’s a bit of a hike to get into town. This hostel is quite literally at the top of a hill overlooking Windhoek. To get to the store earlier, I walked down this hill about a mile. The store was comparable to the one in Omaruru, only a bit bigger. Hauling the groceries up the hill took a bit more effort than I had expected, and it’s not even that hot today. Visiting the grocery store was my first experience in Namibia all on my own. I’ve been acutely aware of others all day, wondering if people are staring at me. It’s hard to know if they know I’m an American; there are enough white people walking around for that to not be much an issue. I do wonder if my dress gives me away. Most men here were slacks and a button-up shirt, always. It was a pretty uneventful trip though.
I’m thinking of leaving again to find an internet café, but I don’t have the energy yet.
This morning in Omaruru half the camp was up at five, getting ready to leave with their supervisors at six. I slept most of the way since talking was so difficult due to the noises of the road. It was nearly a five hour trip, we got to Windhoek at 10h40. The school is nice, somewhat new; built in 2001. There are about ten buildings spread out on several acres of land surrounded by a tall fence with barbed wire. I didn’t see a field, but may have missed it.
I met all the teachers, who were in the lounge for break when we arrived. Everyone was kind and greeted me. After that, I took a look at the computer lab. The lab consists of 17 (three have been stolen) computers in glass-top desks with the monitors inside, a pretty nice setup. My office houses two servers. I didn’t want to get into playing with the computers just yet, so we left for my flat soon after that.
It took some work to get the key, the manager of the hostel didn’t have it, and we had to track down her husband (a teacher at WHS) to retrieve it. But all that is over now. Now I sit on my new bed, listening to the Prince Of Egypt sound track while writing these experiences down. There’s a slight uneasiness in my stomach, maybe nerves, maybe lack of food, likely both. I wonder who I will get to know here; if I’ll get to know any of these kids. What will life be like in this room for the next two years? What will the days be like in that computer lab with two learners per computer, all excited to be there?
This is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I’m now immersed in unknowns, unable to even speak the language that is used most often here: Afrikaans. I feel a force pulling me forward, not letting me stop, but I don’t know what it is. At times I feel like I’m in a perpetual stumble, just seconds away from hitting the pavement face first. But it never comes, I just keep moving forward. I know that my resolve is constantly challenged here, but hope is written in my choices; I shopped and cleaned rather than let all these surprises get me down. I may make it after all. But I still feel like that fall can come at any moment.
I’m really looking forward to a phone call this evening. It’s really lonely here, not knowing anyone and not feeling comfortable the second you walk out of your door. It’d be nice to talk to family. For the first time since I left, I worry about not getting a call.
Windhoek is nice. It’s a relatively small city, just a couple of main strips and plenty of out-laying areas. I’ve had to be extra careful walking on the streets here as the traffic patterns are all different. They use this weird kind of roundabout and plenty of turn lanes with merges and yields. It’s hard to remember which way to look for traffic. There are people walking everywhere. I was on the road no more than five minutes before finding myself following a local who knew the way. Once downtown, everything is as you’d expect; coffee shops, tall buildings, and crowded sidewalks. It’ll be a wonder if I get to know anyone here.
I’ve now got a list of needs. Our last day of training is a shopping day in Windhoek, and I think that PeaceCorps will be providing money to purchase and household items we may need. I defiantly need some nice bug traps. I want to find a couple more tables, one for the kitchen to put the dishes and pans, which now sit idle on the sink, the other for my room, maybe a work area. I need a broom, light bulbs, a power strip (only one electrical outlet in here), some window cleaner, paper towels, and some other minor stuff.
I’m not going out again; just decided. I can post to my blog tomorrow at the school, and also find out about internet cafes from the teachers. That gives me the rest of the day to do some more cleaning at enjoy a movie or two. An escape into a movie is just what I’ll need tonight.

[Appended 23-Nov 12h30]

Grandma gave me a call, which was much needed. After venting a bit to her, I felt much better. I did a bit more cleaning, made my first meal (the Namibian version of Hamburger Helper), and watched part of The Borne Supremecy before nodding off early at 20h30. I had an amazingly good rest, though I definatly will need a fan- soon.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Day 15

Day 15 (21-Nov 19h50)

Today we met our counterparts and site supervisors (I don’t know the difference). But before we could do that: language lessons. I think I’m starting to understand more of Afrikaans. Words are coming into focus now, and I can pick out just enough from sentences to get the gist of what is being said. Not to oversell myself, the fact that our instructor is talking at a snail’s pace and acting out every word helps quite a bit too. Nevertheless, I’m remembering more words, and the sounds are coming easier. I wonder how long it will take to be comfortable in an Afrikaans conversation.

My counterpart (her name escapes me at the moment) is a pretty neat lady. She is the principle at the high school I will be working at. The school is relatively new (opened in 2001) and has a mix of several different tribes. It’s smaller, 600 students, and has 20 teachers, which is actually a great ratio for Namibia. I will be spending much of each day teaching computer classes to all four grades (9-12). I’ve also been asked to train some of the teachers. So far, it all sounds great.

The principle used to be a teacher, a teacher trainer, and also worked on a women’s rights group, and now is running the school. Waldo has great things to say about her, and my first impression is very good.

She has told me that I will be staying in a hostel inside Windhoek. This is weird, because hostel’s are attached to schools, so I will be living in one school while working in another. The accommodations sound like they are first rate. I will, however, need to take a taxi home each day, grabbing a ride with a teacher on the way in. They will provide some extra money for this expense. They also have informed me that riding a bike or walking is out of the question due to security issues. I’m still not clear on a great number of details, but more will be seen next week.

I’m looking forward to Windhoek, having a place of my own and being able to empty my bag out, spreading all my stuff on the floor. I think that will be the first thing I do, dump it all out and spread it from corner to corner. Then, if time, maybe take a few showers.

This evening, most are packing and getting organized. Many of us are leaving early tomorrow morning (me at 7), so all packing must be done tonight. I’ve already gotten this done, and all that’s left is a quick shower and perhaps a game of cards or a movie. I’ve really been enjoying the Firefly TV series that Luke (in Boise) gave me. It’s become a nightly routine.

It’s 19h40 and the sun has long set. It’s dusk, but with the clouds that have shaded us since dinner, it’s cool and eerily dark. The crickets are managing a near harmonious chorus, and something amphibian can be heard in the distance. Birds are scarce, the rooster may actually be sleeping, and the ducks have gone more than an hour without complaining. It’s an odd night at camp, not at all like the previous ones. But just a few hours will bring a new day and that damned hot sun, so I refuse to gripe.

Day 14

Day 14 (Written 21-Nov 19h30)

Finally a day to ourselves! As if we were afraid to forget it, we constantly reminded ourselves all day with greetings of “Enjoying your day off?” and random transactions starting with “I’m so glad we’ve got the day off”. Needless to say, it was a good day.

Activities ranged from hikes to the large mountain that’s somewhat close to camp (perhaps 10 kilos), morning runs, many went to Church, treks into town (mostly to the Sand Dragon, but others went to the store and ATM), football, soccer, many card games, and one group even took to making their own Risk game board and pieces from scratch; they used rice as armies, very cleaver. There was, of course, lots of laundry and cleaning. Some even formed study groups for language lessons (not I). But most, joyfully waddled around camp and town, joining whatever activity that seemed the most interesting at the time. It was a wonderful day.

Stories of note: A group of ten went into the location (location=inner-city that’s outside the city) for Church. They were asked to come up before the congregation to introduce themselves. The patrons of this church were mainly Darma-speaking, a smaller language group, so most of the volunteers introduced themselves in either English or Afrikaans. One, Mike, is studying Kwai-Kwai (Darma, with the clicks) and introduced himself in that language. The congregation were said to be visibly and audibly impressed with this, many releasing gasps of delight and excitement. Afterwards, the group was asked personally by patrons to “please return every Sunday!” What an experience.

I also got the Internet Café going again. It ran for four hours of the day, and I ended up making $20 from the deal. In the past, I gave the extra to the camp, which they put in the donation jar at the front. This time I kept it, figuring that four hours of my day off was worth at least $20.

I rounded the day off with a night walk out of town to see the stars. Several other groups had reported that this was quite an experience, and so it was. A small group of us walked the half-mile down the main road which quickly turned and lead away from the lights of Omaruru. Soon enough, stars could be seen in multitudes, however few constellations were recognizable. Mars and Venus were easy to pick out, but the real show was the huge thunder storms hundreds of miles off, flashing chains of light across a quarter of the landscape. Several large meteorites paid us a visit before we had our fill and returned to camp.

Site supervisors arrived Sunday night as well. These are our counterparts for the assignments we will be working on over the next two years, but we won’t meet them until Monday.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Day 13 (19-Nov 24h10)

It was hot this morning, a small amount of humidity made a huge difference. All was forgiven when, sometime after lunch, a dark clouds found their way over our heads and let loose a few drops. We all ran outside to enjoy our first rain in Namibia. This was not like rain in the States. The drops came down as huge bullets, making large indentations in the sand. The flow of water ebbed and withdrew like the waves on a long beach, every once in a while surprising you with a burst. After a few minutes it stopped, leaving the wonderful aroma of water and dust, engraining in our memories forever with the first shower this year in Omaruru.

We did the typical work for the day; walked downtown to talk to people, got a typhoid shot, sat in on some sessions. The only difference being that we were to be done at 4. As three approached, we endured our last session in the hot box on PeaceCorps associations, then we were free!

I started Omaruru’s first wireless Internet café in the store at camp. They have a dial-up internet account that I used to create a wireless network. Everyone was very receptive to this idea, and half our group used computers during the four hour it ran before and after dinner.

We wrapped up the night with dancing and a movie. The movies was “Office Space”, and the dancing was very American. I didn’t dance, but quite a few did, it was like our own little PeaceCorps night club. The only problem with the movie was that we could not find amplified speakers, so we used my little portable speakers for my iPod, which worked, but everyone had to be very quiet. It was really funny when someone laughed because they were so loud; one forgot how quiet everything else was.

Tomorrow is a day of rest. We all can’t wait!!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Day 12 (18-Nov 24h10)

Wow, what a long day. We started with a friendly announcement from our country director (who just got into Omaruru) that drinking and training for the PeaceCorps does not mix. Whatever ambiguity existed in his remarks were settled later in the day when TK (our training director) said “whether you are on the top of the highest mountain in Omaruru or locked in the WC (water closet), you can not drink while in training.” Many were disappointed.

We walked and talked again downtown. This a quite a difficult chore, walking up to strangers and introducing yourself in a foreign language. You get all sorts, some that just look back blankly, either not speaking Afrikaans or so baffled by the tangle of sounds falling out of my mouth they forgot to respond. Some are happy to help offering corrections and teaching new words. Others just want the conversation to be over with. Most will go through the motions:

“Queie Mora!”
“Hoe Gaan Dit?”
“Bien Goot, Danke. En Met Jou?”
“Goot Danke. Tootsiens!”

There are endless variations of just a few phrases, making half the conversation time laborious silence as I slowly interpret what I hear. Sometimes I blank, like a deer in the head lights, a question asked, a pair of eyes waiting for a response, wondering if you are learning Afrikaans or just from the “special” school. It’s getting a bit easier though. Today I met a security guard, a construction worker, a grocery store manager, and some other random people I never found out much about.

After that, we were all beat, having walked around in the morning heat for nearly two hours. But there was much more ahead of us. After ham biscuits, we did some more technical training, this time talking about classroom management techniques. After lunch, we did something that everyone has been looking forward to all week- site announcements.

Since Jay and I already figured out where we were going, this was not such a big deal, but it was still neat to see where everyone was placed. The staff made a huge scale outline of Namibia in the dirt field in camp. Stones with signs marked the towns we will serve in. As we were handed our assignments, we had to find our town in this virtual Namibia. Once there, we could look around and see what other volunteers were near by. Jay was in Keetmanshoep (sp), Kim somewhere in between us. My bunk make, Mike, is close by in the south, and my fourth bunk mate is far in the north at a great jumping point for backpacking trips. All said, I think everyone was happy with their posts.
I, of course in Windhoek, had many people around me, all within a three hour drive. I’ll likely see nearly every volunteer over the next two years as they all come to Windhoek to the PC headquarters. I spoke briefly with the country director who had a very strange comment to make. I introduced myself and let him know I would be in Windhoek with him. He knew me, commented that it was important that this position was filled by someone who is “professional”, then informed me that not long ago, all PeaceCorps volunteers were pulled from Windhoek due to violence and safety issues. Chris, the PCV that is leaving, and who’s position I am filling, was the first back. Now I’m the second.

There may be opportunities to work in several areas, SchoolNet, the Ministry, and the local school, so I know there will be plenty to do. I’m looking forward to meeting the principle of the school this Sunday, she will be my supervisor and counterpart.

After that, the “IT Three” (Kim, Jay, and myself) were taken downtown to the Teacher Resource Center (TRC) to meet the manager and fix a computer. We will be doing some basic computer and Internet trainings for the staff there in two weeks. They had two brand new computers donated, and one more is on the way. We got them running and started planning for the trainings.

Back at the ranch, we had our afternoon tea (sweat bread) then endured the “hot box”, which is now what we call the conference room, while current PCV’s went over SchoolNet Namibia. SchoolNet is an organization that gets computers to the schools here. The PCV’s showed us the software on these machines and gave ideas on what to do with them. I’m starting to see more pieces of the puzzle now, and wonder if part of my service in Windhoek may be applied to integration strategies for all these computer services. Who knows.

So much to write. I’ll save it for later.

[Appended 19-Nov 14h30]

Many are getting sick now. Most a sick for just a day, then fine, but this hot climate makes any malady seem a bit worse. They have designated the once empty room in our bunks the infirmary where they stick anyone who doesn’t feel well. I felt bad when Chris started feeling sick in the evening, just as the previous occupant in the room had gotten better.

After dinner, Jay, Kim, Myself, and a current IT volunteer, Liz, went to the Sand Dragon for conversation and milk shakes. The Friday night crowed at this popular place was increased ten-fold by the various PCV and PCT groups that escaped camp to dine or get drinks. We raced the first group down there and were able to get a table. Liz shared some great information about computer classes, motivation ideas, and resources. She will undoubtedly be a resources as we get started. She still has one more year to serve.

We wrapped up the night by watching an episode of the TV series Firefly outside. There was an amazing moonrise at 22h30 which I took pictures of. Another night in the African desert.

Day 11 (17-Nov 21h10)

Well, no weird dreams last night- bummer.

I was very disconcerted this morning to find out that my blog site is down. Hopefully it will be up tomorrow morning so I can post. If not, I’ll just email these entries to friends and family; better than nothing. It’s been difficult for me knowing that my blog is not up. It’s weird, but I feel like I’m communicating when I know you all can get on and read; knowing that I can post whenever I need to. Now that it’s down, I’ve had all sorts of urges to setup a new blog, to go into town to buy a phone card, to do something. But it will be back up soon.

Today, we had a light work load. We started the day in language groups, spending half of that time walking around Omaruru trying to talk to people. Conversations are very difficult when all you can say is “hi’, “how are you?”, and “what is your name?”. Never the less, enough people were kind and patient with us to make the experience worth while. The people of Omaruru are very kind. They must be telling this same story to the rest of their family right now, only with a different perspective; they were quite amused. The first phrase I picked up was “Ek Probir Afrikaans”, or “I am learning Afrikaans”: Very helpful.

After ham biscuits (morning tea), we started technical training, talking about scope of work, syllabi, and lesson plans. We got some more details about how school works here, most of which is surprising. Youth have eight 40 minute periods each day, going to school from 7 to 1. There are no transition times, so nearly every class is cut short as learners move from one room to the next.

I was also surprised to learn that due to teacher shortages, some schools have subjects that have no teachers. During these class periods, the kids just sit in an empty classroom doing homework and making trouble. Amazing. I’ve also got a weak sense of what a difficult job it is improving education in Namibia. The fact that the Namibian government is putting so many resources into the problem is very reassuring. There’s no doubt that given enough time, it will get better. Until then, progress is measured very differently than the states. Here, a passing grade is 30%. Here, extra-curricular activities are few and crowded; teachers cannot be spared to teach them. Here, English is the single most important subject, above math, science, and social studies.

It’s a very cool night. The wind has picked up (maybe 10 or 15 mph) and washes the day’s heat from our skin. Today was the hottest yet- 105. But it’s all forgotten now, just the perfectly cool breeze under the perfectly bright stars. The sounds of trees dancing in the wind drift from a large forested area next to camp. Crickets seem to be a bit more cautious on these nights, perhaps not trusting the unpredictable gusts that sweep all memory of the sun’s relentless sojourn. It will be hot again tomorrow, but now, it’s nice.

We just got done listening to some PCV’s who are getting ready to head home. They had some amazing stories to share and plenty of advice. It’s great hearing from them, they simultaneously seem like peers and superiors; peers because they are close in age and share this huge thing that is PeaceCorps Namibia; superiors because they have done something that seems monumental to us, completing two years of service. It was reassuring to hear their memories of uncertainty, wondering if they were going to make it. It was warming to hear the stories of lives they influenced for the better. I was proud to listen to the projects they worked on, knowing that in some indirect and currently insignificant way, I am a part of it all.

I am ready now more than ever before. I have stopped worrying about the details of my assignment, what specific things I want to do. All of that will come in time. For now, I will focus on language training. I will do my best to listen and learn, and to recognize that very soon I will be on my own. But I am ready.

I’ve spoken with TK (our training manager- have I mentioned him before?) about setting up an Internet café here. I don’t know why the thought is just now coming to me, but it’s here none the less. It will take a bit of work, but we’re going to try to connect four or five of our laptops together so that they all share the dialup connection here. As long as everyone sticks to email, it should work fine. We’ll give it a try tomorrow morning.

I’m watching the EOS’ing (End of Service) PCVs right now, talking and enjoying their last days in Namibia. In some ways, looking forward to two years from now when I will be one of these PCV’s is more real than thinking about the next two years of service. I have no idea what my service will be like, but I can get an idea of what these guys are feeling, being on the other side of a long journey, looking forward to seeing family and friends again. It must be amazing.

Another cool breeze.
While laying in this hammock, looking up at the stars, listening to laughing friends, breathing in the African air, it’s hard to remember home. Home is in my heart; my family and friends are with me always. It seems a shame to look inward right now when I always have what is within. This moment is truly one of a kind. So I keep my eyes open. Memories are saved so that special moments can be created when the stars dim, the air is still, and friends are far away.

Day 10 (16-Nov 21h10)

Not much happened today. We got assigned our language groups, but I already knew that I was going to learn Afrikaans. After a morning language session (mostly remedial), we had ham biscuits, then talked about some cultural issues. After lunch, we opened our new bank accounts, got our typhoid shots, then went over the details for our technical training. It’s still a little unclear, but us three IT people will be training the other volunteers on computer skills and also have the opportunity to run some classes for local kids in a neighboring village. We’ll also have some field trips to nearby schools and meetings with some IT people from PeaceCorps and the community.

I found out today that I’m very likely going to Windhoek for my assignment. But it looks like the other two assignments are in huge towns as well, so there never was much of an option for small urban. This Sunday I’ll meet my supervisor for the assignment and get more details. I’m now looking forward to having a really nice place to live and being near everything (including the PeaceCorps headquarters), but it will be more challenging to do anything in the community. We’ll see.

Okay, ready for your first Afrikaans lesson? Gueie Mora! (Good Morning) It’s pronounced Kwi-a Mor-a, and the “K” has a coughing sort of sound, like your hacking up phlegm. There is also Gueie Meddah (Good Afternoon) and Gueie Naat (Good evening). We where told this morning by our new language instructor that it’s appropriate to use Gueie Naat after 3:00 pm. So, this evening, about 4:30, Jay (other IT guy), Matt (a Science teacher) and myself went downtown to visit the Dragonfly (the American-owned coffee shop). On our way, we stopped to greet some women in a park. They looked at us funny, not responding to our “Gueie Naat”, and as we were about to leave they asked if we were just learning Afrikaans. After we admitted that we were beginners, they told us that “Naat” was only “for when the sun goes down.” We had a good laugh over that. I’ll be bringing that up with our language instructor tomorrow morning.

We ended the day with gender groups again. This time, we talked about cultural issues, mostly involving relationships and sex. It was pretty funny, a group of 30 guys (with the trainers) all sitting in a circle, making sex jokes and finding out just how much our two cultures have in common. About the only thing we found that we differed on was that in some Namibian cultures, having multiple “wives” (not married) is acceptable and highly regarded. Other than that, we agreed on the cultural norms for everything else, from homosexuality to dating. We did pick up a neat trick with underwear; Namibian men wash their underwear in the shower every day, then hang it to dry and swap with the previously washed and dried underwear. Pretty nifty trick! Then you only have to own two pairs of underwear!

I think this is the point in our trip that things start getting interesting. We are all close and comfortable with each other, but now getting too close. I’ve seen some typical relationship stuff happening, from talking behind backs to making fun of someone right in front of everyone. It’s sad to see the abnormally high levels of respect wash away with increasing comfort and more typical relationships, but it was bound to happen. I wonder now what the first big argument will be over… Some of the girls have already started the process by stealing all the guy’s pillows during our gender discussion last night. We nearly snuck over and shut off their hot water in retaliation, but cooler heads prevailed.

Last night we had another spider incident. This time, I was getting up to blow my nose (midnight-ish) and another guy was brushing his teeth, and we both saw at the same time a huge-ass spider crawl out from the bathroom. Acting like the manly men we most certainly are, we screamed and woke up the rest of the guys. We then followed it around trying to take pictures while stumbling over each other every time it made a sudden move in our direction. It was quite a sight, eight half naked men tripping over each other, up and down a hallway no bigger than walk-in closet. We did manage to catch it using a garbage can lid and plastic bag, after which we hung it outside, planning to use it in a grand retaliation against the girls the next day. After forgetting about it most of today, we finally did let it go under the justification that it would report back to the company of big-ass spiders in the woods that they should certainly not go into our bunker. Either that or stage a full-scale invasion. I guess we’ll know tonight.

[Appended 23h38 after watching an episode of Firefly in the courtyard outside]
Time to take our anti-malaria drugs (one pill once a week). Most took them this morning because they sometimes cause vivid dreams and hallucinations. Since I got nothing last week when I took it, I waited until tonight to take it. Here come the dreams…

Day 9 (15-Nov 22h20): Details

Last night we kept most of the other guys up with recollections of Saturday Night Live skits and sex jokes. What’s ironic is that tonight, right now, the same guys are all standing outside discussing classroom management. Go figure…

We started the morning with more language training. I learned how to introduce myself and ask where other people are from. They are small steps, and it seems like I’ll never actually speak Afrikaans, but it’s a start. After that, we had tea (more ham biscuits) then had a round table on culturally sensitive situations. After lunch, we endured a very long discussion on malaria, then afternoon tea (doughnuts!) and STD’s. We even put a condom on a carrot. Before dinner we watched a short video that featured five PCV’s that contracted AIDS while in the PeaceCorps. By the time dinner hit, I had eaten so much that I only had a little of the stringy potato stuff, carroty stuff, rice, and cantaloupe. (For those interested, breakfast consisted of one over-easy egg, bush meat, and toast. Lunch was chicken with corn, peas, and rice.)

Some of the more interesting information came from a PCV that showed up today- Chris. He’s an IT volunteer that is on his way home. One of us will be taking over his site. He had a lot to share. He gave me a better picture of what the schools are like; how there is no discipline other than corporal, how learners (students) are moved up in grade level despite never learning the material, how teachers are not particularly interested in improving things, how learners die all the time from accidents and AIDS, how every year six percent of the teachers die of AIDS, while half that number graduate to take their places. But not everything was so bad. He said that learners are very excited about being able to use the computers, even if they mostly want to play games. Well, that’s about all the good stuff.

There are some things I want to think through before I get on site. One is to determine a system to admit learners into computer classes. Chris used pay stubs from school fees; if they paid for school, they got to attend. I’d rather not do it this way, since many of the families that cannot afford to pay for school volunteer instead, in which case their kids wouldn’t be allowed in the computer classes. I’d like to use a privilege system, but other teachers would have to be on board for that to work, and I don’t know if that’s likely. Any ideas?

Another issue is classroom management. I want learners to be excited about learning and make efforts, which is asking more than you can imagine. I think this issue will slowly resolve itself as I work in the community and get to know the kids; what motivates them, what’s important to them.

I have the feeling that many things are going to change next week. Here, we are all together. Next Tuesday, we all split up and travel to our sites for a week. It’ll be a taste of reality, and we will, for the first time, have to process new experiences here without each other. I wonder what that will be like. I also wonder who will be near me.

I’m getting a little nervous about the assignment. Chris worked in Windhoek, the capital city. I was pretty surprised to find that out, and initially I was worried that I may be assigned there. I’m sure I made it clear to Waldo that I favored the new computer lab assignment, which is not where Chris is working now. Maybe because all of our assurances that we each got the assignment we wanted come from stringing together bits of information from various sources, maybe knowing I’m not sure about the placement is why I’m worried. I was unprepared for the idea of being in a huge city like Windhoek, and after thinking about it, I’m not sure I’d like it. They type of community involvement that you could accomplish in a small town takes much longer in a large one.

[After a 40 minute conversation with Jay, who visited me in my hammock at the edge of camp under the full moon…]

I think I’m ready for anything. If it’s going to be Windhoek, I’ll make it work. It doesn’t matter exactly what my circumstances are, I will be equally prepared for any iteration, which is to say I’m not very prepared. And I can’t be. I want so much to be creating lesson plans, developing incentive systems, and planning open houses, but none of that can be done now. All that can be done is follow instructions, take in as much as possible, and brace. Brace for whatever.

Jay and I talked a bit about religion. Religion, specifically Christianity, is huge here. It’s in the government and schools; kids pray before class each day and staff meeting start with a group prayer. It’s so ironic and fascinating for me to see this community so westernized, so Christian, yet at the same time hates what colonialism did to their way of life, traditions, and tribal relations. We arrived on Saturday to a chorus of youth singing traditional African songs, dancing and drawing tears. I see very little of this hidden culture when I walk around town and talk to the people. There is no traditional African art; you don’t hear night time dances around fires; there are no village wise men; there is simply no sign of what existed here just 300 years ago. These cultures have literally been stripped and forced to assimilate. Not even their languages remain. Afrikaans developed as a blend of German (the colonialists) and the local dialects.

Well, enough for now. It’s a beautiful night; stars shining bright in configurations I’ve never seen before; the full moon lighting the dusty ground and silhouetting thick trees; crickets and other insects claiming the night’s sound stage; this is a beautiful night.

I think I’ll try to get online tomorrow to post these entries and see what you guys have sent me. If you can, call me this Sunday morning at 8:00 your time (5:00 my time) on the pay phone so we can have a short chat. I’m told that the phone beeps every minute and automatically disconnects after ten minutes, but we’ll make do. I’ll be getting a cell phone as soon as possible (maybe next week), after which you’ll be able to call me regularly.

Day 8 (14-Nov 21h50): Getting Real

Today was the first day of classroom-style training here in Namibia. We started early talking about some general stuff, the broke into groups to begin our first Afrikaans lesson. It was great learning our first phrases in another language. Everyone in the group will learn the basics in Africaans because it was spoken widely before independence. A smaller group of us will continue on learning it. I’m glad I’ll be learning Afrikaans because it is the language that most Namibians speak in common, despite its gradual replacement with English. So far, it’s a lot like German, with the weird phlegm noises; no clicks though.

After we mastered saying “Good morning”, “Good Evening” and “Goodnight”, as well as
“How are you?”, we moved on to tea time. Apparently, tea time is sort of like a meal here, they served tea and biscuits with a ham-based filling; pretty good. I’d be absolutely stuffed each day if I ate everything they prepared for us.

We had a medical training after tea, talking about water and food preparation, as well as what to do about diarrhea and other ailments. It was actually quite informative. After lunch we got a brief overview of the history of Namibia, then got some hepatitis and some other shot (I can never keep track). After dinner, we had a very interesting talk about racism and diversity, the first of a series. We did that activity where you stand on one side of the room and cross if you meet certain criteria centering around ethnicity and race problems. It was amazing to me how people who are so open minded and nice can quickly allow tension to strain conversations. There was a polite but heated debate over why white’s should be proud of being white when white people have done so many bad things.

Several questions came to mind while doing these activities, which I hope to find answers to while I’m here:
- Why is pride in a Black man seen as recognition of his heritage, but in a white man pride is seen as ignorance and racism.
- Why do important struggles like for independence fail to dissolve old groups in favor of new ones? In other words, if everyone in Namibia fought and favored independence, why didn’t this fact create a new Namibian group? Why did ethnicity and tribalism have to win in the long run?

I’m sure more will come. It is amazing to me to learn about the racism here. It’s nothing like the States. It’s open and real, probably something like what it was like in the south US during the 50’s. Segregation has been outlawed, but nearly every community in Namibia from housing to schools were segregated, and most still are, fifteen years later.

It’s also interesting to hear how important tribal identification is here. Even our trainers identify with just one group. Labels like “colored”, “black”, and “brown” are used here without any negative connotations. The previous colonial powers did a good job keeping these groups at odds with each other; they still are.

I now understand the racial sensitivity in America as a wound after realization that a huge injury occurred. The lack of racial sensitivity in Namibia is the wound that still bleeds. The healing has not begun yet, and in some parts of the country, the bleeding still happens. It’s a wonderful thought to imagine what this nation would be like without this self-imposed segregation.

On a lighter note, we made two trips into town today. The first during the shots (which took 90 minutes) we went to the hardware store to get an AC adapter. They only had a Namibian to European adapter, which worked with the travel adapter Dad gave me. The second trip into town we went to the local super-market, which was about the size of a large convenience store. I got some soap. Thought maybe that would help out in the shower tomorrow… we’ll see.

We also have some current PCV’s joining us tonight; they are here to help administer the diversity and racism sessions. Tomorrow, they will share stories. It’s about 9:30, and I’m wondering if a game of Mafia will get going. We didn’t stop until 11:00 last night, and the games were VERY intense. I finally found a strategy that worked several times: lay low the first few rounds, pay attention to everything people say, and try to read body language. You can usually pick out at least one mafia, and once you start attacking them the others come out eventually.

Well, looks like everyone is tired and heading to bed. Probably for the best.

I’m starting to feel at home here. During our trips into town, we greeted our first locals using Afrikaans. It was difficult to know if they didn’t understand, or just wanted to speak English, but it didn’t go as expected. I’m trying to build my confidence with this language, even now when I only know ten words (hey, it’s a start!). I also like the climate. It’s hot (near 100 in the shade, 115 in the sun) but it honestly doesn’t feel that bad. One reason is that sweat actually works here. Yes, sweat. In more arid areas (even Boise), your sweat doesn’t evaporate very quickly. Here, it does. And it cools you down very efficiently. You just end up drinking TONS of water. I’ve had three liters today so far, and my urine is still yellow.

Some other random stories; a huge spider was found in our bunks last night. We’re told it’s a “hair-cutter”, or sand spider. The local say it crawls into you’re bed at night and cuts your hair, which it uses in nests. Weird, hu? There were also two cockroaches.

Last story: A group of three went for a long walk and got lost. They walked for an hour in the open sun, running out of water. They eventually flagged a car down and got a ride back to camp. We laughed pretty hard. They looked… hot.

Oh, and a belated story: Jana recommended that I take women’s vitamins because I wont get enough calcium here. She was right- they eat very little cheese, and it’s hard to even find milk. The milk you do find is not pasteurized, so they recommend either boiling it for an hour or not drinking it at all. Well, I haven’t been taking my vitamins and paid for it when we overnighted in Jo’berg. I woke up to searing pain in my right calf as it cramped. I remember crying out loud “Oh God! Please Stop!!” before it stopped. Luckily, my roommate was not in yet. Anyway, I’m now taking a super vitamin (that’s what the bottle says…) that the PeaceCorps provides for us.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Day 7: An end to a relaxing day

Since my last entry, I’ve played an exhausting game of football, sat and chatted for a few hours, and walked downtown to a small coffee shop called the Dragonfly.

The Dragonfly is owned and operated by an American who visited years ago, deciding to come back and live. She has frapiccinos and lattes which she says that cannot be found anywhere else in Namibia. The place was decorated intricately with antiques and samples of local art. There, we met a Canadian who is teaching in a town west from Omaruru through the world teaching program. He paid $5,000 to teach here, and we are getting paid $6,000! He had a great deal of insight for us. In addition to corporal punishment (which is both outlawed and prevalent), he deals with tribalism (various gangs exercising prejudices and stereotypes) and poor teaching standards (no one is required to pass a class until 10th grade). He talked about the extreme poverty here; kids living at the dump where food can be found, locals willing to work hazardous construction jobs for days without food for just a few dollars, and prostitution. None of this is visible to me now, but I’m sure it will be soon. There is so much more that I’m not putting here.

We had a pleasant surprise for dinner: pizza! It tasted so good: Ham and peppers and cheese, onions, and a great sauce. Everyone is pretty tired after a long day in the hot sun, and I think most of us will be getting to bed at a reasonable hour. But before that hour, we’re all sitting down right now to start a game of Mafia. Reasonable hours tend to float late into the night when fun games are shared.

Day 7: Omaruru

We walked downtown this morning after getting up a bit earlier than we wanted- 5:30. The various roosters and birds were just too much: there’s a pen right outside my window. There are some very weird birds here. One sounds like a crow, but much louder. There are plenty of the small cute ones that sing like birds in Disney movies, but they are easily overpowered by the larger, more annoying ones. One screeches a “Ak-ah-ooo” over and over until you feel like finding a gun to make some peace (and breakfast).

Omaruru is a small town of about two or three thousand. Omaruru means sour, which is characteristic of only the climate as the people here are very sweet. There is a downtown of perhaps a hundred buildings consisting of gas stations, coffee shops, grocers and hardware stores. We even passed a small hotel and security company. Security must be big here as nearly every residence we passed had electric fences around their yards and big huge dogs. I’m glad we didn’t ask where the laundry mat was; I think we would have been laughed out of town. Everyone hand washes their clothes there. I’m going to give it a try later today.

A bit on cuisine: We have had some of the weirdest meat here. Everything else is familiar: the bread (a bit tough, but good), vegetables, fruits (only in the nicer places), all arranged in stews and pies. The meat, though, is weird. It’s course, strong, and chunky. They eat a lot of fowl and goats, so either the saying “tastes like chicken” doesn’t apply to these animals, or they are prepared completely different to what I’m used to. Either way, the sausage is inedible, but the stews are wonderful: full of flavor. I’ve learned to resist the temptation when they lay out these big, thick, spiced sausages for breakfast.

It’s currently 8:00 am, and I’m sitting on a lawn chair in the middle of a courtyard full of sound. It’s like a zoo here; huge parrots, chickens, roosters, and array of wild birds, something that I swear is an owl, and every once in a while I faintly hear people singing and a flute. It’s about 65 degrees with a slight, nice breeze, the sky is a soft blue and the trees a faded green. A few trees in camp have large thick leaves and huge pea-pod like things that make subtle rattling sounds as the breeze shakes them. Most of the trees are typical desert fauna, big thick trunks snaking up to wide canopies that stretch out, seemingly to gather as much sun (or create as much shade) as possible. The ground is a hard shell covered by a thin layer of fine dust. In places the ground has been dug up, rock is exposed just inches below. This is definitely a desert.

Despite the climate, there are few things about this town that are different from any small American town. Most houses have electricity and plumbing. We were told the Namibia has the most advanced water system in Africa, if not the world. They actually recycle their water here! There are few, if any, water-born illnesses.

This Sunday morning, people are walking to church, being dropped off for work, doing a little shopping. Most of the shops are open. We saw three different coffee shops and one bar on our short walk into town. Everyone we passed was friendly. Omaruru is a nice little town.

Our accommodations are quaint, but pleasant. We sleep in bunk beads, four of us to a room. The beds have straw-stuffed mattresses and pillows. They are actually quite soft, but tend to hold their shape under our weight. The windows have no screens, so I stopped complaining about the mosquito nets. There is one toilet and shower for the eight of us in the first compartment. There are two other compartments that house the other guys. The showers are small rooms with a pipe sticking out of the wall about seven feet up with a huge shower head on the end. Outside the shower, a sink and 2 by 4 inch metal plate that serves as out mirror. The toilet is in another small room, and is pretty much a normal toilet.

I’m looking forward to this week’s training schedule and plenty of down time. We’ll be starting some language training and getting the final details about our sites before visiting them next week. We’ll also be getting some detailed medical training and going over more policies. But today is a break from the chaos, a short reprieve from facing our future challenges. It’s almost like a vacation today. Almost.

I was just informed that this is the only internet connection in town, and I think I’m the only one using it (so far). I’ll probably refrain making another post until mid week since mot much is going to happen; we are all staying in the same place for the whole week- what a treat!

So farewell for now. Please leave some comments below if you have read this post, I like to know who is checking in. Let me know a bit about what’s going on in the states. Did BSU win? Any more hurricanes? Is there still rioting in Paris? Has Bush been impeached yet?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Day 6: An Assignment!

After I posted my last entry, I got some new information: I know what my assignment is! The three IT guys (two guys and girl) met with Waldo (our supervisor and placement officer). He let us know our options, which were three:
• Taking over a new computer lab from a leaving PCV in a secondary education school. The housing is a duplex, and the neighbor is a teacher at the school. The lab has pretty new equipment and a rough curriculum has been established.
• Starting a new computer lab in an upper-primary school (to 8th grade) and establishing a curriculum. This is a new position, no other PCV’s have worked at this site. The school recently purchased the equipment, so all the computers are brand new. Housing is an individual villa.
• Running a computer lab in a multi-activity center. There is an informal curriculum that is used with out-of-school youth (youth who cannot afford to go on to 10th grade, which is not part of the public compulsory system), and is pretty old. There are a lot of community partners that use or would like to use this facility. Housing is an apartment shared by a health PCV working on an HIV/AIDS program in the same multi-activity center.

So which do you think I wanted? Setting up the new computer lab and establishing a curriculum, of course!! Few things in life are more exciting than setting up a new computer lab in an area that had none before. The kids will be completely excited, and since computer education is not part of the education system in Namibia, all courses are optional and on a privilege basis, exactly the way I like to run them. There is also the opportunity to work with the Ministry on some IT support issues.

So, I was worried when we started the individual interviews that we would all want the same assignment. I made it clear that I would do any of them, because they all were cool in their own rights. The multi-activity center is pretty much a Boys & Girls Club, which I obviously am familiar with. But since I’d done that for five years, I really wanted the new computer center assignment and to work in a school.

It turns out, after the individual interviews, that we each wanted a different assignment! Jay wanted the multi-activity center, where he is really looking forward to working with different partners and collaborations. Kim wanted the existing lab where she feels she wouldn’t have to worry about curriculum. So we’re all flippin’ happy! It couldn’t have worked out better. I’m even more excited now than yesterday!

Tomorrow some of us are planning on going to a church service, which is more a social event than religious. Then we are going downtown to find internet, a laundry mat (we don’t want to fight the crowed), an AC adapter (Namibia uses a plug type that no one else in the world uses- go figure), and some good local food.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Day 5 & 6

What long days! Our Friday morning was much needed. As we didn’t need to be anywhere until 11:00 am, we had the entire morning to ourselves. The breakfast at the hotel was amazing- fresh omelets made right in front of you, every cereal you can imagine, eggs, beacon, sausage, and freshly made crapes. It wasn’t possible to sample all of what was there without eating too much.

After an uneventful trip to the airport, and a very bumpy but successful two hour flight to Windhoek, we got on busses to head to a local camp. It was at this point that the airplane food that I had (until then) been mildly impressed with began to disagree with my stomach. It was all I could do to keep my composure as I pleaded with each turn in the road to be the last. As time has just about as much relevance in southern Africa as internet access in America (ubiquitous and just expected to be there), Waldo’s constant chiming of “just five more minutes” annoying in a friendly way. It was when we slowed down and started to turn off the road that I finally saw and end to torture. A premature assessment. Yet another ten minutes of off-road, bumpy, down and through dry river beds with large tourist buses, road. As soon as we did finally arrive at the camp, I bolted off the bus and took care of business. Just the sort of story you were expecting, right? Well if you think not, you should know that no PeaceCorps story is complete until diarrhea is addressed.

The camp in Windhoek, which was well outside of town, was wonderful. I saw the following animals on the bus trip in (despite my waning attention): Springboks (a dear-like skinny thing with a white tail), Warthogs, Ostriches, Wildebeests, and several little ground squirrels. In camp, we also saw hens and way too many roosters, peahens, and a peacock. The camp was built next to a large water hole that attracts all sorts of animals each day. All the main buildings were roofed with straw and looked really cool. There was even a small pool!

We had a great buffet dinner then spent most of the night playing a game called Mafia. Without going into the rules, it’s a role playing game for large groups, and involved a great deal of accusations and yelling. But fun.

We would have enjoyed the rest in our quaint bungalows had it not been for the roosters’ insistence that 4:00 AM was indeed, morning. There was some other sort of animal that wondered around camp screaming short and very loud bursts of “Ahhhh!!!” which at first most of us thought was a girl. More than half of our group was up and out of bed at 5:00, and a small group of us walked out into the watering hole (mostly cracked mud) to watch the sunrise. It took a while- 6:10.

Breakfast was alright, after which we met for a short training. DK, our training supervisor, went over the details for the next 8 weeks. We will spend the first week (next week) doing general training and introductory language here at camp. Week 2 is spent at each PCT’s (PeaceCorps Trainee) site (some people will be more than 8 hours away!) meeting the people and looking into housing arrangements. Week 3 we start home-stay, where each of us will live with a host family. We will be given rides to our families each evening, but are expected to find our own transportation to class every day (trial by fire). Everyone is supposed to be within 30 minutes of camp. After week 8, we are tested, and if we pass, sworn in. Then we spend three months testing the waters and getting started at our sites, after which we come back to camp for two weeks for additional training. Then finally, sometime in April, we should be completely done with training and fully on our own.

We then got a great anti-motivational speech from the country director. He made it clear that the job is not easy, and there are many challenges. He said three PeaceCorps volunteers have died in Namibia since 1990, two of which were auto accidents. Waldo pulled us back into good moods with a positive perspective on the good work we have signed up for. And before we knew it, it was bus time again!

The busses this time seemed very… African. Without accusing our hosts of procuring what looked like mechanically questionable vehicles, I assume that transportation options are somewhat limited. My suspicion was confirmed when, after two hours, one of the busses broke down. Luckily, the driver of our bus (there were two) was a mechanic and got it working again after 30 minutes. The rest of the trip was passed with a game of hearts and many winks.

Finally, we come to what I really want to write about: our arrival in Omaruru. The camp we are staying at is close to town and pretty nice. When we arrived, a local secondary school choir greeted us with traditional African songs while the PeaceCorps staff welcomed us all. It was quite a welcome and it nearly brought tears to my eyes. I don’t know if it was finally being at a place we would stay for more than a night, or knowing that we were really here, in Africa, or if it was watching these exuberant youth sing with passion wonderful songs in chorus and beat, but it got to me. We were all impressed and appreciative.

We had a late lunch, and then endured a short medical orientation before settling in. We received mosquito netting, a comprehensive first aid and medical book, a huge med kit with more bottles and bags than I currently know what to do with, and finally a typhoid shot.

The rest of the evening was devoted to R&R and the start of interviews. The interviews are a chance for us to express what we are expecting in terms of work and living conditions. Then, they will find a suitable assignment for us. We will be placed in language groups based on the assignments we are given. The IT interviews will take place tonight, and everyone else will interview tomorrow, which means I get the whole day to do whatever I want! A group of us are already planning on going into town.

I’m hoping to find an Internet café tomorrow, because all this camp has is an old Pentium 133 with a dail-up which they charge N$20 a half an hour (about $3.50). I think I’m the only one who will be posting tonight.