Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Perpetual Vacation

Some more highlights of my perpetual vacation...

A new Num & Bean opened at the Mearua mall.  We played a game of Ultimate Spades over four cups of bottomless hot chocolateCrossing the street during the noon-time rush hour is a lot like playing frogger...
Ouch!  My hammock broke Tuesday night while I was in it.  My bum still hurts.Dan and I convinced the owner of a small music store to let us play their digital piano for a while.  It was great, and Dan with his 10 years of lessons stole the show (See a video of his performance)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Medical and Vacas

I've spent the past week vacationing in my own town- Windhoek.  There are a few volunteers in town for mid-service medical checkups and even more volunteers free-loading off them and their posh hotel rooms.  Below are some picture highlights of the past week.

Juli, Cynthia, Elissa, Lindsay,  Elizabeth and Patrick play King's Cup.Tuesday night was dinner at Jeff's (out country director).  We had chilli and ice cream and it was all delicious.Matt sporting his "Windhoek pink" polo shirt.
Megan enjoying strawberries and ice cream- wonderful!One night I had seven people sleeping on my floor.  It was a bit crowded... Here's Ellie, Cynthia, Chris and Matt not quite awake yet.Mike had to crawl though the window of our hotel room because the key got locked inside.  Technically this should be impossible... but hey, we're Peace Corps!
Elissa, Jule, Elizabeth, Andrew and Silas all rented a car to drive to Sossusvlei where the largest sand dunes in the world live.  They didn't have a lot of room for five people and camping gear, but they made it work... hey, we're Peace Corps!Dan, Me, Mark and Juli enjoying a cheap dinner at our Peace Corps provided hotel room.
Amy enjoying a large cup of Coke which she only gets once a week at her site- one of the most remote in all of Namibia!Thursday night was all you can eat pizza at Pavorati's.  It would have been fun if not for the cream corn pizza and the hot dog and mustard pizza... yuk!
Dan and I split a family sized pizza at Pavorati's Sunday night.  It was great!Dan, barly awake enjoys a block of cheese.  It's a Peace Corps thing.Mark sporting the newest style trends in Namibia- blindingly blue shorts and a sweater with no shirt.  Guapo!
We were all sure that Peace Corps would be putting us up in a place like this... we were pleasantly suprised.  

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Southern Tour

Well, I finally did it.  I left Windhoek and headed south for the first time, and I had a blast!


My hiking experience was overall pretty good.  I got free rides the whole way except for the last leg to the small village of Bethanie.  My trip started Sunday morning with a free lift to the Windhoek southern hike point from a friend of another volunteer who was picking up a computer I fixed for her.  As soon as I got out of the car I found a hike to Rehoboth in a nice BMW driven by a pretty wealthy grocery store manager.  While going down the road in nice leather seats I found it difficult to imagine I was actually hiking in Namibia.  The ride was nice, but each crest in the road threw the car around like a big boat on bigger waves.  I found it odd that a nice BMW would handle so poorly until I noticed that he was driving more than 220 kph!  Suffice it to say, we made it to Rehoboth in no time.

The Tuesday morning hike to Mariental was not as nice.  This particular morning happened to be the first in a series of very very cold ones.  I arrived second at the hike point and waited on the side of the road for two hours as more and more people joined us.  About two hours later everyone at the hike point spontaneously started gathering their things and heading to the gas station near by.  Apparently, someone made some sort of signal and everyone piled into the back of their truck.  Not wanting to travel for two hours in the cold in the back of a pickup, I held back and was soon the only one left standing on the side of the road.  Not 20 minutes later though, a small moving truck stopped to pick me up.  Another free ride- yeah!

Wednesday's hike from Mariental to Keetmanshoop was even more eventful than the previous day.  I got a ride in a semi truck after just ten minutes at the gas station, but before we even left the station there was an "air lock" and the truck broke down.  I waited with the driver for the mechanic for ten minutes before deciding to look for another ride.

Can you guess what's in these crates?  Live chickens.  No joke.  Each milk crate had three or four live chickens in it.

For the next three hours I wondered from semi to semi, car to car, talking and trying to mask that fact that my only interest in these people was their destinations.  I did have some very interesting conversations however, and met some even more interesting people.  One was a scandinavian traveler who was flat broke and trying to get to South Africa.  He had spent the night on the sidewalk outside the gas station and looked pretty bad.  I also met a South African truck driver who was transporting live chickens which were stuffed in milk crates on a flat-bed semi.  When I asked sarcastically if they survived the trip, he responded matter-of-factly "most do."  I spent about 30 minutes chatting with three oversized transport crews who were moving a bunch of machinery for a mine.  One truck had one of those huge earth movers, another had a huge water truck and a third had a rock grinder.  They had plenty of stories of off-loading accidents, stolen dump trucks and angry wives at home (too much to get into here).

After a full three hours of waiting and talking I found a hike through one of the oversized-transport crews. 

Just outside Keet's: these guys walked what must have been at least 10k from home to find wood.

This time it was an Angolan with short wirey dreadlocks and a lazy eye, his wife and an empty flat bed semi.  This being my first ride in a semi I found driving so high off the ground a very odd experience.  It felt simultaneously exhilarating and lethargic being so far up from the ground but also seeming to go so slow.  They left me on the highway just outside of Keetmanshoop, which was kind of weird... but free!

The turn off to South Africa, like much of the highways here, perfectly straight.

From Keet's I paid for my first ride after waiting nearly five hours at the gas station.  WIth no luck there, I walked several K out of town to the road-side hike point and waited for about 30 minutes after which a combi (large minivan) stopped to pick everyone up.  I overpaid $50 for the ride but considering the options it was fine with me.

The turn off to Bethanie; literally the middle of nowhere

The most sureal experiences of the whole trip was being dropped by the combi at the turn off to Bethanie.  I stood there on the B1 watching the white combi plow off into desert; only the sound of the wind crawling across the dirt and a few dried bushes to keep me company; thinking "what the hell did I just do?" 

From Bethanie, I got an arranged lift with Erikka back to Keet's which (we didn't find out until that morning) was in a two-seat pickup, so Erikka sat on my lap for the 70 minute drive.  From Keet's we took the train back to Windhoek, a very long 12 hour ride on a very slow, creaky train.  I wouldn't have been very surprised to see a seam engine pulling the thing.

A poor shot of our sleeper car.  The seat back folded up to make bunk beds.

The train was quite an experience.  We arrived at the station a bit late and weren't able to find the business-class coach that we had purchased tickets for.  Instead, we got a sleeper car that had no door and was next to the toilet- both mistakes I'll never make again.  While watching episodes of Lost (season 2) we had to continually chase off drunks who would stand in the door trying to watch.  Sleeping was difficult even with the rythumetic rocking of the car due in large part to the hardness of the beds, coldness of the room and noisiness of the train itself.  Despite the odds, I did manage to get some winks in and was pretty happy to get off the following morning. 

The Towns


Courtney.  For some reason every picture I take of her has three elements: warm smile, gesturing hands, and a mysterious comic strip feel

Courtney's site is Rehoboth, a small Baster (a tribal distinction) community spread thin like butter across the foot hills to the south of Windhoek.  Here the language is Afrikaans through and through.  Even at their school assembly Afrikaans was spoken, in direct opposition to the educational mandates in Namibia but not in the least unusual.    There are a few tarred roads, many more dirt ones and a single stop light.  When walking in Rehoboth the abnormally wide streets and large lots give the illusion of city planning until you find odd dead ends and segmented housing blocks that make it feel more like a KOA camp than a city.

Courtney says that the Baster community prides itself in it's building talents (apparently less so in city planning) which is evident in the architecture seen. Also, after Namibian independence, Rehoboth tried to become it's own sovereign government (the Independent Republic of Rehoboth) but ultimately was assimilated into the new Namibia.  

I had fun working on the computer lab at Courtney's school: Rehoboth High.  It was the first true thin-client computer lab I've seen in Namibia, consisting of 30 trimmed down PC's and one state-of-the-art server.  I once didn't care for thin client solutions but am now seeing the many benefits, first among them the ultra cheap cost and easy maintenance.  There are however serious software limitations, made all to clear when I tried to get the school's administrative software to work on them so that the teachers could all enter grades at the same time.


Computer labs at two of the high schools in Mariental.  Very nice.  Very new.

Beth Dixon and Megan Tracy's site is Mariental, a larger city in the south that is host to a lot of old racial tension.  The town is quite big and takes some time to walk around in.  The TRC (Teacher Resource Center) where Beth works is in an old hostel and is quite nice.  Teachers go there to use the Internet, type and take computer classes, among other non-computer related teaching activities and I am wholly ignorant of.  Megan took me to two schools with labs, both of which had very nice thick-client labs of 30 computers each.  I am still amazed at how many nice computer labs there are in Namibia and am now planning a computer lab fixing tour to return to these sites and re-setup these labs properly. 

The computer lab in the TRC in Mariental.
Megan demonstrating one of many methods employed to combat frigid air.

Earlier this year during the rainy season Mariental had a disasterous flood who's affects can still be felt.  Megan said that many businesses have closed their doors as insurance companies refuse to renew policies and pay out claims.  Unlike Rehoboth, Mariental is not growing and is even in a slight decline. 


Jay brought a bunch of street kids to meet me- what a welcome!

Jay and Shoni's site is Keetmanshoop (or just Keet's), a good sized city that is considered the gateway to the south.  Jay and Shoni live in a community center in the location (Seblata), a good walk from town.  This community center is the nicest and most active I've ever seen.  Even as I visited on a Wednesday there was a business conference taking place, a sewing class, and people using the computers, weight room and music room.  Their flat is just a few steps from the center itself, which means that every five minutes or so there is a knock on the door from someone wanting either Jay or Shoni.

The computer lab at the Keet's community center.
Janet and one of her learners enjoying a milkshake in Keetmanshoop.  Janet, Erikka and I all went back to Windhoek together on the train.

Jay took me on a tour of Seblata and the informal settelment.  What suprised me most was how friendly and warm the settlement felt.  In Babylon (Windhoek's newest setelment) the plots are small and crowded together.  In seblata the streets are wide and the plots are quite large.  We stopped and talked to a few resitents and I got the impression that it was actually a very nice place to live.  Imagine: no bills, no taxes, and every day stresses that amount to no more than finding fire wood and a bit of meat. 

Keet's is growing pretty fast in many directions.  There are satellite campuses for UNAM and a South African collage, as well as a large hospital and several large industries.  Town itself feels much like parts of Windhoek: tall buildings and bustling streets.


Erikka, Janet and  one of their Namibian friends (is it horrible I can't remember her name?)Janet, Erikka and I.  They made an awesome dinner of vegetarian enchiladas and brownies.  A great end to a great tour.

Erikka and Janet's site is Bethanie, what used to be the largest city in the area and now is one of the smallest.  Bethanie consists of one tarred road with a few intersecting dirt roads, two primary schools and one high school.   I got a complete tour of Bethanie which lasted an hour only because we stopped to talk to every shop owner and passerby along the way. 

They painted their kitchen green which makes it look like a radioactive zone from outside at night.

Erikka and Janet are completely happy here.  They've gotten to know every person in town and enjoy small-town life.  Their recent discovery of a large orchard and vegetable farm near by made them feel for the first time guilty of having such a nice site.  For me, Janet's piano topped off my whole southern tour.  It was so nice to sit down and unwind, I had almost forgotten how therapeutic the hammering of keys is for me.

Overall my southern tour was amazing.  It was especially good to see other volunteer's at their sites and to be the guest instead of the host.  Now I have mental images when these volunteers talk about their projects and their sites.  I can't wait to get out again to see more.

Monday, August 07, 2006


There were quite a few volunteers in Windhoek last weekend.  On Friday night we all went out for dinner at a great Ethiopian restaurant that is hidden very well in Windhoek.  The food was amazing and the technique was completely new to me. 

The front of the restaurant.  This gate was locked so we had to walk around the back... strange way to run a restaurant.Chris admiring the large... thing that we sat around.  I wasn't sure what to expect.The tops were removed and the plate inside was loaded up with spiced meats, sauces and various other concoctions
It looked almost too good to eat!We used tortilla-like (think spongy tortilla) wraps to grab bite-sized portions.The food was amazing.  I think I'll be going back there for sure... if I can find it again that is.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Photo Lab

Some learners looking through the index sheet of photos previously taken.Some of the learners who are running the Photo Lab.  Those who wish to buy a print see one of these guys to edit and print.The prices for prints are cheaper for School learners than for the public.

The Photo Lab at Hage Geingob High School has slowly grown in size and popularity.  We now have eight 11 and 12th grade learners working after school and during break to take pictures and print.  I'm hoping to expand services to the local community next term by allowing some of the learners to take the camera during the weekends.  Those who wish to purchase prints will do so through the learners: we'll print them here then have them delivered.

Our lovely photo printer which has been working overtime these past few weeks.  We go through at least one ink cartridge out of the six it requires each weekAnd, of course, we make plenty of money.  :-)


A car loaded up with security guards.  You never see a car with just one person in it here.

I've been thinking about writing this for quite some time.  I take at least one cab every day, sometimes 2, in addition to an arrange lift every morning and several ministry transports

each week.  Suffice it to say that I've become quite versed in Namibian traffic rules and customs.

I'll start with what's the same as in the States.  Cars stop at red lights.  Cars have four wheels.  Horns are used. Okay, I'm stretching.

The differences however are many.

  • While cars do stop at red lights, no one makes turns while the light is red.  The rule here is "if the light is red, you don't enter the intersection".  This is unlike in the States where you may make a right hand turn if there is no traffic even if the light is red.  I have blown through a few red lights though, but it was either very early in the morning or well into the evening.
  • Stop signs are treated as yield signs- few people actually stop.  There are no yield signs, only round abouts.
  • The side walk is okay to use as a passing lane.
  • Flashing lights and tooting horns can mean anything from "nice car" to "how's it going?" to "get the *&@% off the road!".
  • Cars are run down.  It's pretty typical to be in a cab who's shocks bottom out at speed bumps (without going fast), who's lights do not work, and who's breaks make annoying metal-on-metal scraping noises.  Other clunks, rattles or bangs are par for the course.
  • No automatic transmissions.  I have yet to see even one.
  • Cars have the right of way.  If a pedestrian (even in a cross walk) is in the way, they risk getting hit.  You have to constantly be watching while walking across intersections.
  • Speed limits are not enforced.  You go as fast as possible for as long as possible, then slam the breaks at the next light.  Those who do not speed become obstacles.
  • Changing lanes is akin to parallel parking- all it takes is a little more than a cars-length of room.  After each light turns green there is a race-like feeling as the faster cars weave in between everyone else trying to get out front.  This is scary regardless of the speed you are going.  If you're in a slow car, others are speeding around you like your standing still.  If your in the fast one you feel like your plowing through the remnants of a crash on a stock car speed way.
  • Car accidents are akin to theatrical productions.  Everyone stops (litteraly) next to the wrecked car and offer's their inturpretation of what happened.  Even after passing the accidents, a conversation can last as long as 20 minutes with different accounts of what happened.  This usually also involves incessant gesturing for demonstrations, which can make hearing the driver's story very scary.
  • Taxi's.  They stop in the middle of the road, weave through tight traffic and demonstrate a complete indifference to the care of their car.  Taxi's are involved in almost every accident and everyone loves to complain about them.

So yeah, driving here is a little unnerving.  But it's also a way of life and for the most part things seem to work.  Despite the daily accidents I see I have only been in a few myself, minor fender benders, and the one time when we hit a pedestrian (he was brought to the hospital); but other than that no problems. 

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Nearing the End

Well, it's the end of term 2 which means a break is approaching and tests are eminent.  This also means that it's invigilation season.  I learned that the previous Peace Corps volunteer here refused to invigilate after his first experience with it.  I no longer blame him.  It's incredibly boring and very frustrating. 

Learners before the exam doing some last minute studying.  Each testing period is two hours.  Learners get from 0 to 90 minutes to study before each exam.An 8th grade learner smiling for the camera just minutes before taking a math testAn 8th Grade class taking a math test.

Before each exam learners have time to "study", which most take literally, but some interpret as free time.  My first experience with this was very bad.  Last term I fought for quiet and begged for discipline.  This term its a bit different and a little easier.   I allow free study (groups) until the volume get too loud, then switch to completely silent individual study.  This acts as a deterrent and has, so far made the whole experience much more enjoyable.  After the study time the test begins.  I haven't caught anyone cheating yet but I'm pretty certain that cheating is as prevalent here as in the States.  A few brave ones try it, but for the most part people do their own work.

Teachers during the morning rush: getting tests ready for learnersMr. Tjozongoro with a large stack of History examsNo collating printers here- it's all done by hand!

We have some new rules at the school now regarding invigilation.  Teachers who are invigilating must stand, circulate and monitor for the entire test period.  This is a very difficult thing to pull off, especially for those 2-hour tests.  I used to read and type emails, but now I just stand and pace.  Tomorrow I'm going to try reading while standing to see if I can't find a happy balance. I'm also going to see what other teachers are doing to make sure I'm not the only one following the rules.

Other than the constant "quiet please!" and never ending silent pacing, it's a pretty easy day and I can't complain.  If only we could pay the parents to invigilate for us...