Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Meet Nelson

I had the pleasure of meeting a friend of Jay in Keetmanshoop- Nelson.  Nelson invited us into his house in the location outside of Keet's and permitted me to take some pictures.

Nelson's house is located near the back of the location just two plots down from his mother's.  He lives alone in this small shack. The lot it sits in is clean.  He sweeps it somewhat regularly and picks up trash when it accumulates. 

Nelson, outside his house giving a typical Namibian "cool guy" pose.Nelson and Jay inspect his latest invention and science fair entry- the gambling machine.The sign above the door proudly says "I fix Radios" in both English and Oshiwombo.

Outside his house, Nelson invites me in.  The sign above the door reads "Radio Repair" but is slightly deceiving: Nelson will attempt to repair just about any electrical appliance.

As I enter his home a wave of humid heat washes over me.  The tin walls and roof of the shack absorb quite a bit of heat and since there are no windows the ventilation is very poor.  Despite this his home has a pleasant quality to it.  On one side of the 15' by 10' room is his bed, framed on two walls with colorful sheets that hang from the wall.

The bedroom- a make-shift bed with a metal grid as a box spring, boards as a frame and a small mattress.The entertainment center.  You can see a radio on the right with a speaker.  The TV and computer do not work, but he keeps on trying to fix them.A solar panel on his roof.  It charges a car battery during the day that he uses to power his light and radio.

His clothes hang from wires on one side of the bed, while a broken TV set holds several electrical items as a table on the other side.  There are many inventions around the room.  Clocks, suit cases, radios and a gambling machine which he displayed in the science fair in Windhoek a few months ago.  Nelson loves to make things.  He uses items he finds in the trash and gets from family and friends to put together unique and artistic electrical appliances.  He talks to me briefly about capacitors and resistors, terms that he picked up in his 11th grade science class this year.  He hopes to learn more so that he can put together more complex devices.

Nelson shows off the suit case he made from fence wire and cardboard.  A colorful and artistic creation.Nelson and his little brother look over a fan that he made from spare parts. He can't use it at night because it drains his battery.The CD clock on the wall keeps time perfectly.  Another project inspired by the parts he was able to find.

Nelson is 21 years old and has just finished the 11th grade at KHS (Keetmanshoop High School).  Next year he will finish 12 grade, a task that is made more difficult and unlikely given his late start in school.  These days he spends his time playing games on his cell phone, talking to girls, and learning about computers at the community center.  He has dreams of being a musician when he's finished with school and loves to rap. 

Surly one of his many talents will enable him employ somewhere in Namibia.  I have hope for Nelson, and every other youth who learns, tries and aspires.

Pictures of Keets

I took a trip down to Keetmanshoop recently to help Jay install a server in his lab.  We took a break on Saturday and walked through the location to talk to people.  Here are a few of the pictures I was able to get.

Can you see the meet drying on the wall?  This is how biltong is made- a Namibian beef jerky.A Namibian kitchen.  Here fat cakes are being made and sold to residents.  Fat cakes are like Namibian dougnuts.Another view of a kitchen area, shielded by tin and set away from the house.
A view of a few houses.Two brothers insisted I take their picture.  They also said they would come see Jay to learn about computers on Monday..You can faintly see a dust storm here- one of many that visit residents here each day.
Jay sits with a Meme who has taken in children of AIDS infected mothers who cannot breast feed their babies.  We sat and talked with her for a whileSome of the children of the Meme in the previous picture. In addition to her own 7 kids, she cares for at least 10 more, all funded with a N$10,000 grant she applied for.A Namibian garden.  Fresh greens rationed carefully to last as long as possible.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The New ITC

Jay and I spent the last three days in Okahandja (70k north of Windhoek) at the Group 26 PST to facilitate the ITC technical training.  We had a blast- the new ITC volunteers are awesome and we had a thoroughly productive and entertaining time with them.

Here's the soon to be famous Nam26 IT Crew: Dave, Paul and Sam.  Short on syllables, long on talent.We visited SchoolNet.  Hard to believe that just a year ago, Jay and I were doing this same visit for the first time.

We spent our first day together going over a myriad of ITC issues in Namibia, from national initiatives to classroom teaching techniques to common problems. After that we shared files on a ad-hoc wireless network (of course!) and spent a whole day in Windhoek touring computer companies, UNAM (University of Namibia), SchoolNet, and my school among others.  I really feel that these new ITC volunteers are going to do well and I look forward to working with them for the next year (maybe two!)

SchoolNet happened to be getting rid of a bunch of broken computers when we arrived- a sight I haven't seen ever in NamibiaSo, what would six IT guys do when dropped off in front of a mountain of broken computer hardware?  Go through it of course!Another shot of Dave, Sam and Paul at the NIED training center in Okahandja.  Here they do ICDL courses for N$750; Two hours a day for two months.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Greeting The Newbies

Here's the pictures that prove we are complete dorks and unable to control ourselves while attempting to impress a group of new American faces...

The welcoming committee (Susan, Chester, Dan, Myself, Lauren, Irene and CourtneyMyself and two of the Group 26 IT guys with a "healthy" tagging along.  Don't know their names yet, but they seem cool!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Welcome To Babylon

I and a unique opportunity to take a bunch of pictures while riding incognito in the back of a bakkie (truck).  Normally I don't take pictures while traveling through town because it seems rude and indignant.  But this time no one could see me and I took pictures like there was no tomorrow.

An old car outside a residence.  It may look abandoned, but it's either being worked on or used as a place to sleep.  Little goes unused in townships.A lot of care goes into the houses here.  You can see an old guard shack that has been put to use.  Gardens and decorative plants are not rare.The outskirts of Babylon.  A river runs through a valley but the water is hardly potable due to sewage content.

Welcome to Babylon, a settlement just outside of Katutura.  It used to be what Namibians call a "temporary settlement" or "informal settlement" but now it's officially a part of the city.  In 1997 the streets were lighted and water taps were installed one-per-block. 

The residents here pay no taxes.  The land is free, one need only register to claim a spot.  The houses can be built using wood and metal sheets for less than N$1 000 (US$145).  Residents are supposed to pay N$25 a month for the access to water, but few do.

A great view of one of the hillsides.  Remember, each house contains 6 to 20 individuals.  That's a lot of people!You'll find residents spend most of their time outside their houses talking with friends.  It's a stress-free life style.You can see the typical construction materials and methods here.  A basic 4X6 frame with metal sheets attached.  When the rain comes, it floods every household.

Life in Babylon is a mystery to me.  I intend to learn more about this place, but transportation and security issues make it difficult.  All I know now is most of the inhabitants of this area are recent (within the past 10 years) immigrants from other parts of Namibia.  Few have jobs, but those that do can afford to support an entire block of people.  Each house contains usually two rooms, a living room and a private room.  Adults sleep in the private room while kids sleep in the main room.  Each shack you see in the photos houses between 6 to 20 people each night.

Another view of a hillside.  You can see some shops in the lower left and planted shrubs in the foreground.That's a bathroom on the right, basically a hole with a pot.  A hair-salon sits to the left.You can see a very large market on the corner there.  The markets buy their goods from official markets in town then resale them for slim profits here.

The commerce in Babylon is mainly informal businesses.  You can buy just about anything you need, groceries, meat, small appliances, a hair cut and even a tune-up for the car by stopping by the right house in Babylon.  Few people here work outside (in Katutura) and most learners school nearby.

It's a fascinating place I can't wait to learn more about.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mysteries In Keetmanshoop

It's been a while since I've posted- sorry.  It's not that I've been particularly busy, at least no more so than months prior.  It's just that I haven't had much to say lately.

Last weekend I did go down to Keetmanshoop for a murder mystery party celebrating our one year anniversary in Namibia as well as Carrie's birthday.  We had a pretty good time, Jay and Shoni (our hosts) did a great job organizing the whole thing.

Dylan (the guy who got killed), Sandra (a quiet mortician) and Erica (a pregnant mother of 7) in their costumes just before the party began.Cynthia played a "man-hater" and did quiet a good job of it too...
Mike was my favorite character, a biker with a serious attitude and 79 dependents according to his tax returns.Jay was our host and played an eccentric just-out-of-jail single looking for a good time.

I played Wade, a lonely exterminator who finds much joy in finding bargains at the grocery store and saving money.  I was a suspect in the murder that occurred later in the night because the guy killed sold me some crappy land in Florida for $50,000.  I was trying to get him to pay me back all night. 

But the real killer was a character played by Janet who was about as talkative as the girls on Clueless.  She got fed up with him ignoring her all night and refusing to get back together with him, so she off'd him.

Dan played the French man-servant and Mark played the virgin computer nerd.We briied (barbecued) some bread and meat.  Traditional Namibian cuisine.
Dan and I took the train (not this one), played cards and discussed the meaning of life... seriously. 

The break from work was nice, and getting all the way from Windhoek to Keets and back in two days was quite a fun journey.  We (Dan and I) took the train Friday night and attempted to sleep.  By the time we arrived in Keets at 9 the following morning I was soar and not very well rested.

Our hike back from Keets made up for it all though.  We got a cheap ($20) lift from a Namibian in a new VW with leather back seats.  We slept most of the way as he plowed through Namibia at more than 200kph.

Next week I go to the group 26 PST and help with a bit of the training.  Should be fun.  If everything goes to plan (...right) I hope to be in Swakopmund to celebrate Thanksgiving. 

Monday, November 06, 2006

Conference (Again)

Well, it's all over now.  After initially being very skeptical and negative toward this conference, I actually enjoyed myself and now think it was worth the time.  Despite being torn from our schools just as we were getting back into the groove after the long holiday, the conference was moderately useful and enjoyable. 

Group 23, 24 and 25 at the All Volunteer Conference in Swakopmund.  June, 2006.

Several things were changed that made the whole experience better.  For one, dinners were cut out of the schedule and we were each given a per-diem to pay for our own dinners each night.  This allowed for more recreation and conversation, as well as a variety of food.  Second, they got us out of the hotel, giving us a tour of Swakopmund and the location.  We even taught at the local schools for a couple of hours!  The biggest difference was that all PCV's in Namibia attended, which was the first time it's every been done.  It was great meeting new people, but a bit strange at first seeing Americans who you don't know.

Travel took some volunteers almost as long as the conference itself.  Those in more rural sites started traveling Monday morning.  I met up with the group from the south at the Greiter's conference center outside Windhoek Wednesday morning.  Greiter's is where we had our reconnect conference and brought a welcomed blast of nostalgia.  I spoke briefly with two PCV's from PeaceCorps Swaziland who had some interesting experiences to share.  The HIV rate in Swaziland is the highest in the world and there is a lot of work being done there.  Most of the volunteers in the program live on family homesteads and have no running water and limited electricity.  Once again, I feel pampered.  The Swazi PCV's will be talking about a Peer Support Network program they started to help PCV's through tough times.

Saying "hello!" to the ocean was one of the first things we had to do.A small coctail bar gave us a two-for-one special on margaritas which were great On the bus heading to Swakopmund.  Not a very comfortable ride for a 5 hour drive.

We (the 30 or so volunteers from the south) arrived in Swakop around 2:00 and had the rest of the day to play.  The first place I hit: the beach.  The day was warm and the water wasn't, but I still regretted not brining my swimming trunks.  Chris P., Pat S., Mike and Jay Z. all jumped in though.  After trying to outrun a few drunk beach bums who were trying to peddle their wears, we had a light lunch downtown.   Later that day we all met up for the Margarita special that a cocktail bar had for all volunteers (two for one!).  That evening we welcomed our fellow PCV's from the north (mostly group 24) and met new faces.  I hear there was much drinking each night, but I didn't partake.  Instead, I joined a small group to watch Mission Impossible: 3.  It was ok. 

Day 1

Linda opened the conference after a short and long intro by Jeff, the country director.  We were told the focus of this conference is HIV/AIDS and were given a rundown of the schedule.  We spent the day morning about HIV/AIDS projects.  After tea we took an interesting tour of Swakop.  First going through the location we saw where most of the residents of this resort town lived: small cement houses.  The city is undergoing a massive relocation campaign to provide houses with water and electricity to whoever needs it.  Outside the formal location is the informal settlement where rows and rows of piece-meal houses are lined.  Once more plots are available in the formal area they will be offered to those who can afford them.  They cost about N$5,000 (about $900 US) each and have a toilet (outhouse), electricity and water.  It costs the city more than N$20,000 to build each plot.  The difference is made up by the sale of expensive beach-front property which often goes at double to triple the market price at auction. 

We all packed into the city hall where we learned more about the history of the city.  We were told that the last time so many white people crowded in this room the city was trying to rename some of the streets from German names to African.Linda, our training manager, opens the conference.Here is a view of the temporary settlement.  The houses are made of scrap metal, plywood and whatever else can be found.  Each street has one tap for water and there is no electricity.Here we are, trying to stay awake for the speeches from Jeff Miller, our country director.

After leaving the settlement areas we went to the nice part of town where the huge houses were built.  Here, I felt like I was in southern California again.  Amazing.

What defines Sawkop more than any other feature is it's cleanliness.  The city official who gave us the tour said that this is due to a "culture of cleanliness" that has been established.  Whatever the method,  it's effective as you see little trash along the streets.

After the tour we met at city hall for a brief history of the city.  The city official who spoke had quite a pronounced bias against the Germans who established (took over) the area more than 100 years ago.  Without going into the details, the Germans in town control a lot.

We wrapped the day up by preparing for teaching in the schools the next day.  In groups of four, we were assigned teaching posts at one of the many schools in Swakop.  I was teamed with Pat S., Shoni and Anna (from group 24) to teach at Namib High School.  We came up with what we thought was an excellent goals-planning lesson.

We had a great dinner of pizza and headed back to the bungalows to watch the Daily Show episodes I downloaded off the Internet.

Day 2

The breakfasts and lunches at the Swakop Hotel (where we are bussed for the conference every day) were amazing.  The buffet-style spread was plentiful and very delicious.  We tried to eat enough so that we wouldn't have to pay for dinner.  It almost worked.

The second day we taught.  We ended up teaching at a mostly white High School that was very nice.  I knew we were in trouble when we walked into the classroom and saw mobiles hanging from the ceiling that the learners had done which contained pictures of their family, dream jobs and favorite artists.  These guys had probably already done lessons on goals.  Oh well. It went alright, the kids played along and seemed to have some fun with the activities.  I was impressed with some of the learners in their dedication to the work and well-thought goals.

This classroom was amazing.  It was like going back to the states.  The teachers here actually teach!Some had a hard time staying awake through the sessions.  Robin is snoozing in the background under the nose of Jeff.We had dinner ad an excellent Pizza place.

We spent the rest of the day talking.  The most interesting presentaiton was by the Swaziland volunteers who talked about their Peer Support Network program.  They train PCV's to be pseudo-counselors to other volunteers who need to talk.  It seems to work very well there.

That evening the World Cup started, which is a HUGE deal here and just about everywhere but the states.  We made it to the bar before the game started, which just happened to by Germany vs. Costa Rica.  We rooted for Costa Rica, of course.  I thought we might start a bar fight with the Germans who were obviously rooting for Germany, but everyone was civil. It was a moderately good game, but Germany won.

After the game we went back to the hotel to enjoy a performance from a local Choir.  It was amazing!  I bought their CD and am listening to it right now.  They tour all of Africa and just returned from a long trip to Canada.

Watching the newest Daily Shows provides much needed news and laughs.Jay and Will working on a computer.The choir performing for us.  They were true performers, complete with costumes, jokes and plenty of dance moves.

Day 3

Saturday, the final day was brief.  We wrapped things up and had some committee meetings.  After lunch we said goodbye to the ocean and packed up.  We arrived at Greiter's after a long bus ride back and had a quiet evening.  The next morning we got up early and left for our sites.

Mark and Chester joking around at breakfast.  They are sitting on one of those camping chairs just purchased by Catlin.We found out a little late that you could order free milk shakes during lunch.  Game on.
Mike saying goodbye to the oceanMy goodbye to the oceanThe PCV's who were heading north the next day sent us off with a wave.

Now, back at my flat, I'm very glad to be home.  Tomorrow I start school again.  I hope it doesn't take long to get back into the groove there.

I met a German, Stefan, who tagged along with us at Greiter's last week to Swakop.  He is volunteering for a month here in Namibia before he starts a new job in Germany.  The work he was lined up to do at Greiter's fell though, however, and is now going to be haning out with me in Windhoek.  I've got some ideas to keep him occupied, perhaps setting up some computers at the library.  What amazes me about Stefan is his English skills.  He's just 20, fresh from an associates program, and only took 5 years of English in school.  He never used it in Germany, but uses it constantly now.  He can speak fluently although slowly.  It's amazing.  I took four years of Spanish in high school and couldn't have a conversation like this guy can have.  I'm impressed.

Mike getting some extra rest at Greiter'sOne more sunrise at Greiter's.

Tonight Snoti and Mariel staying here to get an early start back to their sites tomorrow.  There are many other PCV's in town tonight so we might all go out for dinner.  Hopefully the week will be quiet after that though.  I'm ready for some quiet nights.