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.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jason...this is Chester's mom...I am really enjoying reading your blog..keep up your good work. Chester's brother is a PVC..spent 2 years in Tanzania...your thoughts, fears, and hopes are'll have an amazing only gets better.
Mary Clark

Paul said...

Jason - This is Amy's dad - I know that there are going to be good times too and that you will make a positive difference in the lives of some people you don't even know yet. You might not be aware that a lot of people are thinking and praying for you. I thought I'd let you know that I am too. I like your honest expressions of wonder, joy, anxiety and fear.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to Chester's mom and Amy's dad for your encouragement of Jason. We are so very proud of our son as I am sure you are of your own children. As parents, it is always so hard to see them go through the difficult times, but it is nice to know that other people are also reaching out with support.
Jason's mom