Friday, November 18, 2005

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.

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