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.

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