027_Penduka through Leave in the USA

Written 7 October 2017
Published 7 October 2017

A lot has happened since April, and wrapping up my involvement in the Poultry Program at Penduka, which continues without me. (See the previous posting.) I may have said this before, but one of the reasons I don’t post more often is that I always think of posting as having to be complete – a whole story/narrative – and that takes time. And the story keeps getting longer every day. So it seems daunting before I begin, so I don’t, and don’t, and don’t, etc. I am beginning to have suspicions that I may not be a writer at heart!

There aren’t many images in this post. You’ll bump into them. But I hope words catch your attention. More photos in later blogs, I promise.

Apologies to all (as is becoming usual), and a sincere Thank You to my friends, family, and occasional other reader that all sent me a note asking for another post. I appreciate the prodding – really.

As you know if you’ve been to WITWIA before, I don’t tend to make my blog a travel log. I try to spend more time talking about the country, the people, the customs, and my inner experiences in Peace Corps service. Today will be a little bit of an exception because there is so much to catch up on. In many ways, what you see below is not necessarily common for Peace Corps Volunteers. But it is/was MY experience. And I can add it to the growing public library about what it’s like for a Peace Corps Volunteer. In my case, a 50+ (+++) “older” volunteer. But it’s different for everyone. If you are thinking about doing it – just do it. It will be more than worthwhile in a way that is meaningful to YOU. And there is no way you will be able to know what will happen before you just commit and show up in country. It’s worth it.

Part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is returning to the USA. And it is full of adjustments. The Peace Corps spends about a week getting returning volunteers ready to experience the readjustment, and it is time well spent. More on that week (COS – Completion of Service) in a later blog.

After getting the completed Poultry Program on sustainable chicken feet (early April, 2017), the Peace Corps in Namibia asked me and one other PCV to meet the new group of volunteers (Group 45) at the airport when they arrived in Namibia for the first time. That is SOOOOO much fun! There were 17 CED (Community and Economic Development) volunteers – the same program I am in. G45 was small compared to most because it was not combined with new Health volunteers. My group in April 2015 was 31 when we got in country (22 left standing when the group ended service in June 2017). But only 15(12 at COS) of us were CED, and the 16 (10 at COS) were Health volunteers.

Oone of the smart things the Peace Corps does is that when the new volunteers get on a bus right after arriving, there are only one or two other people on the bus that takes them from the airport to where they will be for the next couple of months of training.  Those “other people” are PCVs with experience in-country for a minimum of one year to be able to just talk and answer questions. I appreciated it a lot when I was new, and I love being able to do it for the new trainees. No one official, just PCVs like the trainees expect to be after a couple-three months of training.

Even more fun for me was when G45 was taken to Penduka for their first four days of service! What a unique opportunity. It never happened before, and probably won’t happen again only because of the group sizes. Having them at Penduka was close to (actually in) Windhoek and made it easier for Peace Corps Medical staff to travel back and forth. It also gave the “new guys” a chance to enter a different culture relatively gently.

A memorable event happened at the end of the second full day at Penduka. Peace Corps Namibia hosted a dinner at Penduka for the new Trainees, and we invited 10 personal friends of mine from the surrounding community. The Trainees got to meet “real” Namibians not associated with the Peace Corps, and just chat and have dinner. It went really well and both groups reported it to be a huge success! It is an evening I will always carry with me as a warm memory.

Within days after G45 left Penduka for Okahandja to continue their two months of training, I left for the USA on a four-week vacation gratis from the Peace Corps. Gratis was the economy class air fare part back and forth to San Francisco, my home of record, and the leave time. The rest was on my bank account. The extra leave is granted to any PCV who extends service for at least 13 months.

I spend most of the rest of this blog talking about that trip even though it was in the USA because what struck me so distinctly was experiencing the USA after spending over two years as a volunteer in a developing country.

After flying back to the USA, I visited (in order):

  • San Francisco, CA, where my daughter and my extended family met me at the airport! THAT was fun after having been gone just over two years. I only stayed one night, then….
  • Milwaukee, WI to visit some of my oldest friends, Roger and Kris.
  • LA/Woodland Hills, CA to visit Pat and Sharon, who go back almost as long as friends, but whom I unfortunately don’t get to see very often.
  • San Rafael, CA to stay with my Mother-Out-Law, Posie, for over two weeks and see my daughter, her mom and family, and LOTS of friends in and around Sausalito.
  • Bethesda, MD to stay with and see Steve and Bev in their new (to me) home. Again, very close friends for many years.
  • While in Bethesda, I took a jaunt down to Arlington, VA and spent a few hours with Carl and Pat, the ex-Peace Corps Country Director for Namibia. Carl was kind enough to drop me at Dulles to catch my flight back to Namibia via Johannesburg, South Africa.

I didn’t see everyone I wanted to, but managed to have a good balance of running around visiting people and relaxing, with some good time with my daughter which was of primary importance to me.

Just a few days after returning to Penduka from the USA, I left for Okahandja (about an hour drive north of Windhoek (Penduka), and spent about a week helping to train Group 45 in week seven of their nine-week training program.

Back to Penduka for about 10 days, and then I left Windhoek and flew to Oranjemund on 15 June, where I’ve been ever since!

Now, some perspectives on the various parts of the visit to the USA. Everything since late May after returning from the USA will have to wait for a future blog. Honest, I’ll try to get another post sooner than it has been.

Trip to the USA:

I tell people that I had three distinct impressions of my trip:

  1. Most people in the USA have absolutely no idea of how much we take for granted compared to many places in the world, especially to Namibia/Africa. It’s not a bad thing, but it affects our ability to even comprehend some things other cultures, particularly developing countries, deal with on a daily/hourly basis.
  2. I feel incredibly lucky to have been born in, and raised in, the United States. It is not as exceptional as many people think it is in all ways, but it does include many distinct advantages, all of them at a cost (not monetary) that many USA citizens are not aware of. All of the analysis aside, I’m very happy to be from the USA, and lucky, and thankful.
  3. I do not miss being in the USA at all. I miss my family and friends, and look forward to visits, perhaps to moving back one of these days – who knows? But living in the USA is a “been there done that” kind of thing for me.

More could, perhaps should, be said of any of the above. But I’m trying to keep this posting manageably readable at least in length. (Added after finishing – I failed!)

One thing I will comment on: I really like Namibia and may retire here although I hate the word “retire”. Let’s just say I may stay here. Someone asked me a while back why, of all the places I’ve visited or lived around the world, Namibia is my favorite? I replied that it isn’t that. The question of “favorite” in anything doesn’t work for me. I don’t do well with the “favorite” concept because it’s just not how I think about things. “This” is what it is, it doesn’t have to be compared to something else.

Through a combination of lots of luck, some personality characteristics, some decisions, and a generous amount of being willing to risk (which hasn’t always worked out well!), I’ve experienced much more of the world that the vast majority of people, but not nearly as much as many people. I do not feel the need to continuously look for the next experience – I have a lot of them. Nor am I looking (any more) for the “better” place or experience. I could spend the rest of my life – in fact could have spent my entire life – in that search and at this age still would not have touched a small part of the wonderful places, and people, in the world. I’m here, I’m 68, I like it here, and I’m fortunate enough to have a challenging project to keep me sufficiently stressed and enjoy occasional moments of feeling like I’m in the right place at the right time for me, and perhaps for some others if I’m lucky. I’m contributing what I can, insufficiently most of the time in my opinion.

If I can build a life here and continue to feel that way, that feels like success to me. Yes I’ll miss living next door to lifelong friends, but good friends tend to stick around and be available regardless of how long we are separated geographically. And I’m constantly making new acquaintances, and a very few of them, if we are lucky, eventually become friends. I seem to be missing the community gene that requires I put personal connections ahead of all else – something I’ve seen in abundance here in Namibia. This is a culture built around community.

I am content, very grateful, value my friends and acquaintances, accept the flaws I have that I know about, and look forward to tomorrow. Plus, being here still has a certain amount of feeling “exotic” to me – there are moments when I look up at the constellations of the southern hemisphere, or at a gemsbok (oryx) two meters from me grazing on the grass in my back yard (literally), or a jackal running away from me, at night, back into the Namib desert, or a flock (herd?) of ostrich(es?) running wild through the fields, or the people sitting around a conference table with me, and I think “I’m in friggin’ Africa!” Not too bad.

That’s why Namibia.

Now, back to the USA.

It turns out to have been a god send to spend the first few days in a suburb of Milwaukee with good friends. The area they live in is old and still has the “walk two blocks to the grocery store” feeling to it (which is also the reality in their home). Two blocks another direction is a good restaurant, two blocks the other direction is a nice open area/park, and the entire area – and their home – is not at all pretentious. It was a really helpful re-entry to the USA from Africa. The Peace Corps stresses to PCVs returning to the states that re-entering the USA is often more difficult than acclimating to the “foreign” country, in my case Namibia. And they are right.

I know Roger very well and getting back together with him is like putting on a well-worn and comfortable jacket – it just fits. I so appreciate his friendship. It was also great to spent a few days with Kris since we’ve never had that much time to just hang out, previously. In my book, she rapidly caught up with Roger and I now feel I have two very close friends even if we don’t communicate all that often when one or the other of us is wandering around the world. I did just write him a note, and look forward to his reply and to hopefully SKYPING with him soon.

From Milwaukee on to LAX, and UBERed to Woodland Hills to see Pat and Sharon. It was my first UBER experience. Which is the end of the notable aspects of that event. Except for the traffic up I 5 in LA. I had (thankfully) forgotten. In Namibia it is not uncommon to drive on an open highway at 150 km/hr and not see another vehicle on the OTHER side of the road for 10-20- sometimes 30 minutes at a time. This is a relatively big country, with a very small population. Good for vistas, bad for the economy.

Pat has been a friend since the early 90’s, but after I left LA, we lose touch for a year at a time or sometimes more. After our early years of friendship, he met Sharon – a wonderful woman, delightful to be around. I’d spent time with them a few years ago, and it seemed like I hadn’t been gone at all. This time was a little different. Pat and Sharon are very grounded people living in a very ungrounded geographic location. Pat is a musician/programmer/car enthusiast, and Sharon is a major executive/delightful wife/contributing singer to Pat on occasion. He took me for a Sunday morning drive in his relatively new Porsche which was really fun and a significant catharsis in his life, I think. But the environment actually got to me more than the winding roads through Topanga Canyon. The opulence, emphasis on image with the people we … “saw” is insufficient, it is more like “experienced” … at a really nice brunch on the PCH, and the sheer visibility of MONEY, was beyond jarring to me after living in Katutura for two years in the surroundings of absolute poverty. I literally started to feel nauseous, not with judgement but with environmental shock. To this day, I feel badly about asking him to take the slow route home – but he graciously endured the I-5 traffic (really bad) in a high performance car just for my comfort. Disappointing to him I’m sure, but as is typical for Pat, he didn’t show it. Sorry, my friend. You’d have to spent a few months here to really understand, I’m afraid. At any rate, he said he got a charge out of making an ex-fighter pilot motion sick. I’ll accept that.

Back to San Rafael/Sausalito and living in Posie’s home for a while experiencing family and the old neighborhoods. During that time, I never got tired of being “there”, but relatively quickly started missing being “here” (in Namibia). It was odd. Everything was strangely familiar but otherworldly, but I still was in touch with the sense of knowing the streets, environments, and businesses so well from having lived here so many years.

I’m not going to comment on the family experiences and personal feelings but the time there was great – particularly the time with my daughter. She made a point to be available for some full days, and I so much appreciate(d) that. Thank you.

One event was really fun – we eventually got about 12 friends together at Posie’s house and I showed them some photos of Namibia and talked about Peace Corps, Africa, cultural experiences (and snakes) for a few hours. All part of personal enjoyment in getting to see old friends. As an added bonus, it was also fulfillment of Goal 3 in the Peace Corps: “To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” It was really nice to see everyone, and I’ve been very badly behaved in not following up with more personal communications to you all after the fact. I’m intent on changing that over the next few days now that this blog has gotten me back on the keyboard.

Also notable was the evening my other family and I all saw “Hamilton” in San Francisco thanks to Dana’s longtime boyfriend, Robert, with whom I am fortunate to have an excellent relationship. Through perseverance and monitoring multiple computers at the same time months earlier, he managed to get six tickets, and was extraordinarily considerate in inviting me to join his new family and his son to see the production. It was sold out for months before – and I know why, now. I started out being underwhelmed, but within five minutes was caught up in it, and ended the performance with it being one of those experiences you never forget because it was so extraordinarily magnificent. Wow – thank you, Robert.

The family eventually took me to SFO to depart on yet another lengthy stay away from the USA, and I jetted off to Dulles to stay with Steve and Bev in Bethesda for about four days. I didn’t do much sightseeing – mostly hung out with them because they became extremely close and trusted friends over the course of a few years of living maybe 20 feet apart, both on boats, in Sausalito. They have a very special place in my heart and my life. While there, I also visited with Dan and his wife. Dan was a temporary Director of Programming and Training in Namibia Peace Corps, and circumstances caused us to get to know each other well. I hope to stay in touch with him over the years, and intend to follow up on making that possible.

Bev and Steve and I did a little bit of sightseeing, most notably to the larger location of the Air and Space Museum near Dulles – fascinating. It brought me back to my Air Force days when I was an active member of AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) and virtually lived for flying. I subscribed to, and actually read (!) Aviation Week, and led a truly focused life based on flying. My aircraft in the Air Force (F-4 Phantom II) was now a relic on display. Seeing it was one of the “feeling old” moments that increasingly pop up along side my new, fresh Peace Corps experiences.

F-4 at Smithsonian with ADG 2

The aviation period of my life changed – one of the “choices” referred to early in this tome. I still miss it, but not all that much. As I said, my life has been interesting and full of different experiences and I have a few, but not many, regrets.

A low key lunch visit in Arlington with Carl (the ex-Peace Corps Country Director for Namibia) and Pat ended up my trip to the USA. Becoming a friend of theirs has been a joy in my life. Unusual circumstances over the past couple of years created the opportunity for me to get to know him personally to a degree unusual for PCVs and Country Directors, and I will forever feel grateful for that opportunity. His warm and gracious support of PCVs around the world was a large part of what made that possible. He has been a gift and valuable resource to the Peace Corps, and continues to support the agency and the PCVs at every opportunity. And thanks for the ride to Dulles, Carl.

——————————-

Wow – much longer than I expected and woefully short of images. But the above is part of returning home, at least for a while, from a Peace Corps Volunteer’s perspective.

Next up in the blog (sooner than it has been) will be a description of working with a new group of volunteers in Namibia, and moving to Oranjemund with my new service. Then in later blogs, LOTS about Oranjemund.

If you got this far in reading, thanks for hanging in there. Make sure you select “Follow” in the lower right of your screen, and you’ll be sent an email when I post another blog. Nothing else – no ads, selling your address, or anything like that.

 

026_Poultry Update for Penduka

I know, I know – it’s a LONG time between postings. Sorry. This has been a very busy time since I got back from Kunene/vacation (my last post). I’ve been back to the USA for over a month, spent a week training the new group for Peace Corps to replace my group, been to Close of Service for my group (41), and moved to my new posting in Oranjemund. Following posts will cover all of that.

But for now, here is an update – possibly the last one for me – on the poultry project. Again, thank you to everyone for the donations in the (USA) spring (fall here in Namibia).

The old layers were taken out of the hen house in May and slaughtered to make way for the new group (the ones you kind folks bought for Penduka).

Just before they “left” for a higher purpose (dinner), they looked like this:
Layers in a row_170226_P2260003Layers Group Shot_160226_P2260011

Liina collected one of the last batch of eggs from this group – they had been laying very productively for about one year. It is normal for layers to be producing most strongly in the first year. Liina collecting eggs_170315_P3150015

And two or three times a week she (or Phillip) would have this many eggs, or more. Liina with eggs_170315_P3150017

A few days later – this is now the same group of layers looked:
Slaughtered Layers_2_170606_141102I know – gross.

Here, Kauna and Kaino were doing a part of the slaughtering. They processed about 109 hens in two days. Slaughtered Layers_3_with Kauna_170606_141048

And these are the eggs that would have been harvested by Liina the next day after the hens has laid them. These are not just the yolks, these are the “in process” eggs taken from the slaughtered hens. What looks like yellow yolks are the brown shells before they are fully formed. It only takes 1-2 days for a hen to produce a new egg, so these are from about 25-30 slaughtered hens. They are really good fried! Plus I had all the fresh gizzards and livers I wanted! (Which was a lot, by the way. )Slaughtered Layers_4_eggs_170606_141128

Then the new batch of layers were released into the hen house, and would have begun laying by mid-June.
New Layers_170611_113429

So the cycle continues. Another new group of layers should be purchased around the first part of 2018 and will replace these hens in June or July.

But how about the broiler project? If you recall, donors contributed about US $3,500 out of the US $5,000 estimated for the broiler project – cages, chicks, food, other equipment, etc. The cages arrived in good shape, and on 27 April the first group of day-old chicks arrived.
Broilers one week_1_170527_091104Broilers one week_2_170527_091116
Before they think how cute they are and start to name them, remember they will be dinner in seven weeks!

Their lodging was all ready for them. This shows part of the cages for 400 chickens, 50 in each cage, and added 100 every two weeks (that is/was the plan). The broiler house is new (this is the inside) and has a concrete floor for sanitary reasons.
Broiler House_2_170527_155155Broiler House_1_170527_155030

 

And here are the chicks after two weeks. They are already big enough that the food and water is outside the cages. Broiler Chicks 1 week_2_170611_104851Broiler Chicks 1 week_1_170611_104832

It is about this time that I left Penduka, so this is probably the last shot I’ll be able to post of the poultry project.

The bottom line is that your contributions were used directly, and effectively, for the poultry project. Some of the budget items were shifted – for instance we decided to build the new house for the broilers instead of putting the cages under an existing shed, but it worked out MUCH better! The chicks are growing, and the first group of 100 only had four die of the “learning curve” with any new project. The second group of 100 didn’t start for four weeks instead of two, but the first group should have been sold by now. Some slaughtered, some sold live in Katutura.

The contributions you made have positively improved the lives of the women of Penduka, and of Katutura. Thank you so very much. Precisely none ($0.00) of the contributions were misused, or taken up in administration fees. The profits from the broiler project will be used to expand the program, and the vendor of the cages wants to work with Penduka to build a much larger broiler house, including an abattoir (slaughter house) for a much larger poultry operation. They also are already using Penduka for a training location for other poultry operations that are starting up in Katutura, and in parts of Namibia, after people came to visit the Penduka operation.

This is one of the things – only one – that makes Peace Corps service so rewarding. Getting to experience the support of the people that contributed from 10,000 miles away, watching the Namibian people use the funds you donate to improve their lives and nutrition, and the sheer joy of being able to work with these folks in their efforts. and seeing it become self-sustaining.

I’ll post soon – I promise! – about my trip back to the USA, then training the new group of volunteers, and then my moving to Oranjemund and my new post, here.

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025_Back from Vacation, and matching donations now possible!

Written: 26 March 2017
Posted: 26 March 2017

Last night (Saturday), I returned from a nine day vacation in the Kunene Region (used to be called Kaokoland) of Namibia – North West corner of Namibia, next to Angola, and just east of the Skeleton Coast. It was serious four wheel drive country, and this was definitely not your usual tourist jaunt! We were in the heartland of the Himba people, the tribe that adheres to their customs more closely than any other tribal affiliation in Namibia. Fascinating! I’m going to make a post on that trip, with photos, soon.

For now, I wanted to let everyone know that a friend of mine has offered to make matching donations for new donations until the grant to start the Sustainable Poultry Project is filled! Thank you so much, “J”.

We need to raise another US $2,000 or so to complete the grant, so if you haven’t already contributed, please consider doing it now! You will need to let me know via personal email, or on this blog with a comment, so the exceptionally generous donor can match your contribution. Your donation will be doubled! 

I feel a little like NPR! But we really need your help. Also you could mention this to people you know who might be willing to contribute anything! I’d LOVE to complete the grant in time to announce it Thursday evening this week when Penduka is hosting the American Ambassador, the Turkish Ambassador, the Governor of Khomas Region, and the Mayor of Windhoek with the entire Municipality Council! The Thursday event is a big deal!

Go to https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/project/sustainable-poultry-project/, or use this link to DONATE, or tell people to go to www.peacecorps.gov/donate and search out the project under my name, or under “Namibia” (Sustainable Poultry Project).

100% of all donations go directly to the project, I am personally responsible to the Peace Corps for grant accountability, and when this is done the programs for eggs and broiler chicks are self-sustaining; never needing another grant to keep producing eggs and meat for the community around Penduka Village, and making a profit for Penduka Trust. 

Penduka helps empower women and their communities to improve their own lives. Please help us fulfill this mission statement.

 

 

 

 

024_Penduka’s Sustainable Poultry Program

Written: 15 March 2017
Posted: 16 March 2017

See a video of Penduka, and my work here, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15ck5vSuwOs.

“Penduka helps empower women and their communities to improve their own lives.”

That is the Penduka Trust mission statement, and Penduka Village needs your help in this mission. The village management is starting a broiler chicken program (meat chickens, as opposed to layers for eggs) and they need the equipment and initial day old chicks to get it going.

Once it is started, the program is FULLY SUSTAINABLE! It will provide income for Penduka Village, and protein for the Katutura community (one of the lowest incomes areas in Namibia, and THE lowest income area in Windhoek), indefinitely – probably for years, maybe decades. No further funding will be required – ever! The Peace Corps is running a donation site that ensures 100% of the money goes to the project with no administration fees.

Over the past year, the women have proven their ability to run a successful poultry operation. We have 109 of the original 150 chicks received one year ago (there were a few “learning experiences”!). They are very healthy, and producing eggs profitably! Egg production rates are around 4.7 eggs/layer/week even six months into their egg producing lives.That is very good!

The laying hens as of 14 March 2017
Layers at 1 year old_P2260003

Liina with one day’s egg harvest.
Liina with a bucket of eggs

The village needs US $3,500 to add to the US $1,500 they have already raised or contributed locally. Contributions can be made at the Peace Corps donations web site for this project. There is no fear of the money going to any other purpose or individual.

Care for the Layers and Broilers is the responsibility of Fillipus Iita, one of the two men of the 30 employees of the village, and over 200+ women that depend on Penduka for their livings for themselves and their families. Fillipus takes care of all poultry and grounds maintenance. He lives here at Penduka.

Fillipus Iita
Phillip

A monthly Poultry Program Financial Review is run by Liina Shikongo, Sr. Manager for Hospitality. We just started that review process, and it was a requirement that it be successfully started before we went out for this grant.

Liina in her first financial review! Now it happens monthly.
liina at monthly layer profitability review

The program will produce 100 new broilers every two weeks starting about two months after the first chicks are received. Markets near Penduka have agreed to carry some of the slaughtered birds, and some will be sold, live, on the streets of Katutura outside of Penduka. The birds will also supply the needs of the tourist restaurant at Penduka, and some will be sold to the women that work here. We don’t give them away to the women; this is as part of the mission to empower women to take care of themselves – not to just expect handouts.

The village already purchased, with part of their contribution, the next 160 layers. Those chicks are just over one week old.

New Chicks, one day old, on the day of delivery.
Chicks being delivered

The cages that will be purchased with your help look like this. There is plenty of room for broilers, and they are raised organically with no hormones or chemicals other than a one-time inoculation against diseases when they are a few weeks old. The cages have a five year warranty, and are expected to last more than 20 years.

Cages from the inside – a chick’s eye view!
Coop_inside

Please make a contribution of whatever you can afford. 100% of it goes to the project and there is no misuse of funds.With 20 more contributions of $100 we can fund this project quickly, but any size contribution is welcomed.

I will post updates to the project on this blog at key events (such as the cages being received and assembled, the first batch of broiler chicks, the first time all four cages are full (six weeks into the program) and the first group of broilers ready for market, plus a time or two in between. You will also see the layer chicks as they grow. It takes them 22 weeks to start laying, and they are just over one week old now.

Liina with one-week old chicks
Liina with new chicks

Just click “Follow” on the lower right of this screen and you’ll get an email of new blog posts when I make them. No other advertising or bother – just an email of the update blogs.

Unless you post anonymously (which is possible), I will get a list of donors and will ensure you get a note of thanks from Kauna Simon, the General Manager of Penduka Village.

Kauna Simon, General Manager of Penduka
Kauna

Penduka was founded in 1992, and is the oldest continuously operating NGO in Namibia. The Deed of Trust for the registered Trust is to support low-income and disadvantaged women, with an emphasis on women with disabilities, who would otherwise have difficulty finding employment, learn self-respect and be able to earn an income on their own with a small business, or to be employed by other organizations in Namibia.

Penduka fell on very hard times about 10 years ago and was in danger of failing 2-3 years ago, but are in “recovery” with Namibian women managing the village for the first time in its history, and a lot of help is learning how to manage! We have a web shop at PENDUKA.COM and you can see the products made here.

Please donate anything you can! The women are doing a great job of being responsible and making a living for themselves. Their salaries and payments for the piece work done by 180+ women are paid ONLY from revenues they generate – they get nothing from grants or donations, which are used exclusively to start new income generating projects.

Feel free to write if you have questions. Also PLEASE spread the word to your friends or organizations that may be able to help fill this grant! You can tell people to go to www.peacecorps.gov/donate, and search the project either under “Namibia”, or under my name: Andrew Garrison. The project name is “Sustainable Poultry Project“.

Thank you!

Andy

 

 

023-Just like everywhere, sometimes it’s sad.

Written: 3 March 2017
Posted: 4 March 2017

I have a relative who disagrees with me when I say my experience is that every person, regardless of culture or country, is, at a fundamental level, the same.  But I still maintain that is true. Sure, sometimes you have to look really deeply to see past the cultures, religious beliefs, personal characteristics, and other “stuff” to see the similarities, but they are there. We all just have different ways of dealing with life.

And death. The similarities are easier to see when tragedy and grief are involved, somehow.

Wednesday evening of last week, the son of one of the women here at Penduka was murdered. Thursday morning I went with the women here to her home. It’s not the same everywhere in the USA of course, but in the world I grew up in grief was contained. There was some veneer of control at least, and usually a deep surface obscuring the raw emotion below.

My father was a minister/pastor, and at funerals and such events he was always the one with words that were expected to be spoken. I never got to know him as an adult, he passed away many, many years ago. I have always been sad to realize my memories of him are of being intellectually compassionate, but not ever being able to just “connect” with him or my mother. Somehow he, and she, seemed able to do that with the people in his congregations, but I don’t recall being part of that kind of emotional connectedness within the family.When I tell that to my friends here, they have a hard time understanding it. Family, community, is integral to their existence in a way I am just barely beginning to comprehend. And when a close part of that existence is suddenly taken away …

Lydia, the mother, was more openly suffering from agonizing grief than anyone I’ve ever been around, or even known about. Maybe it was just the first time for me to be around someone that open with their grief but it is more common than I have personally experienced in my own cultural life. So I can’t say it is something unique to Namibians, or Africans, or any particular group. But the rawness of “experience” I see around me every day here has impacted me deeply. There was absolutely no attempt to contain the grief, and those who love her were there strictly for support as she did what she had to do – virtually fall apart emotionally, losing awareness of physical circumstances, appearance, or any semblance of control for at least a few hours on Thursday morning. Wailing and weeping not as a ritual show, but as the expression of the unbelievable pain she was feeling. And the family was just … there. Holding her, just being with her. I have never seen such raw emotion and grief in a human being. I think it would be impossible to be in the presence of such honesty and exposed vulnerability and not be moved to tears. I had absolutely no idea how to be of “use”, and more importantly I realized the most, and best, thing possible was to just be there. I’ve known that about supporting someone for a long time – but not like I understood it Thursday morning.

Later, I was standing in her kitchen listening to her colleagues from work, over 20 women and one man other than me, sitting and standing in the living room singing hymns and just being there. Even from another room, simply being in the presence of the grief the mother was feeling. As I looked at the faces of these women I have grown to know, and to love, in the past 21 months, I saw them each move from quiet awareness, through tears of sadness, to recovery and back again as their own thoughts moved through their consciousness. I could see them imagining their own families, their own children (for me, my daughter), their own frailties, and their own lives somehow being in the position that Lydia was in. Some of the women are in their 20s, some in their 60s, and all ages in between. Each in their own thoughts, flowing in a stream through whatever feeling was engulfing them in their own experience of the mother’s grief. The hymns were all in Oshiwambo, and I only understood a random word or two, but I understood the meanings clearly.

Even without the language, and with a totally different background, skin color, gender, and family situation, I was part of them in a way that I can’t describe. I learn so much from seeing the people here just experience living honestly. It was in stark opposition to the reality of the work world in which I know most of them almost exclusively. Some of them can be bitingly petty in their complaining about work, or each other, or Penduka Management, or any of the other things that people invariably manifest in real life. They are just like people anywhere – different in different situations.

For some reason, I found myself noting the specific conditions of the kitchen, which was really an alcove off of the “living room” – the main room in the house of three rooms. Unlike every other home within a 100-200 meter radius, this home had brick walls. The roof/ceiling was zinc plated corrugated sheet metal, but every other home was entirely made of those same metal sheets – walls, roof/ceiling … everything. Lydia (the mother) had worked hard her entire life and managed to save enough to have a really nice place to live compared to her neighbors. The faux-wood linoleum counters were worn through to white, and cut through as only decades can accomplish by occasionally letting the knife go too far in cutting the meat, or the bread. Only family living can do that to a kitchen. The walls had been painted countless times and in places had chipped so you could see layer on layer of old paint. The joints between the walls and deep corrugations of the ceiling/roof were filled with plaster, or grout, or caulking, that had broken out in places. I knew that what she experienced when it rained was the same as in my home – the sound of every rain drop hitting the roof that is only 2 or 3 millimeters from the ceiling since they were both the same sheet of metal. And when it rained hard (as it is now, as I write this), the sound is loud to the point you can’t hear someone talking next to you. The floor was an uneasy combination of poured concrete, tile, and linoleum that was uneven from the result of years of repairs as inexpensively as possible. The stamped metal sink, like the sink in my home, was the same as in almost every home I have seen here – utilitarian and highly functional. Many homes don’t even have a sink. All the washing is done in a pail outside by the community water faucet. Lydia even has running water in a single spigot over the sink – a luxury in Katutura.

Yet everything was clean – the kind of worn clean that comes from daily care. Even though poor, these people take pride in their homes and in the way they live their lives.

At one point, one of the family members walked around with a picture of the deceased son and let everyone look at, and hold, the image of her son Lydia kept on the wall in her room. It was very moving.

I had no idea what the expectations were for the cultural rituals when we showed up. I simply appeared at the home, and the women, my friends from Penduka and the family members, gently showed me what was expected in as loving a way as I have ever experienced, and often without sharing a common language. The expectations of a man’s behavior are usually very different from the expectations of a woman. Apparently not so in this kind of situation. I have rarely felt so accepted in spite of my differences as in this home of sadness.

The experience of living with a community in an entirely different culture, becoming part of it to whatever degree is possible, is one of the most valuable things a Peace Corps Volunteer can ever experience. I’m sure it varies by community, by individual, and by geography and culture. But at its core, there is so much to be learned.

If I can look back and feel like I’ve been able to give to this community even 10% of what I’ve gotten from them, I will feel fortunate, and useful.

Thursday morning was a very important memory and experience in two years’ worth of valuable experiences. I am in tears as I relive it for these inadequate notes, and I will always be immensely grateful for the opportunity to experience being welcomed into it by Lydia and her community and family.

—————————–

It is almost anticlimactic to the story, but I felt you needed to have some experience of the Katutura community.

20161022_145202

Each of these shelters/homes is made entirely of corrugated zinc coated metal. Over 200,000 people live in these homes, and a very small percentage of them have water in the home, electricity, or even indoor toilets. Most homes in Katutura share a pit latrine for a group of homes in the area. The houses go as far as the eye can see – this is a very, very small percentage of them. And this is within 1 kilometer of the entrance to Penduka where I live. I’ve been going up and down the streets for so long, almost always in taxis, that some of the residents have begun to recognize me and wave when I drive by.Grey hair and a white face are unusual here, and people notice, particularly the children.

 

022-Nearing the end?

Written: 26 February 2017
Posted:   26 February 2017

I’m writing now, after so long, because my NEXT post (within a day or two) will ask you for your help for Penduka Village. It’s a big deal for Penduka. And I feel terribly guilty asking without giving. So …

In only three and a half months my group (#41) finishes our two year on site commitment and everybody in the group except me heads home. There are 23 of us left, I think. Eight went home early for lots of different reasons, including not wanting to but being forced to return by a health issue. A couple of us will stay for a few more months, up to six for one volunteer, but I plan to be here at least another year, probably two or more, or longer. I don’t yet know if I’ll be here at Penduka or move to another site. That decision won’t be made until May after we get to know the new group of volunteers arriving to “replace” my group. And my extension is not “for certain” yet. The Country Director for Peace Corps Namibia has to approve my request to extend, and it’s been delayed a few times for one reason or another.

Every day here at Penduka is a challenge in one way or another. I haven’t travelled much, partly because I’ve travelled a LOT in many places of the world in the past 45 years and I’m mostly interested in people and cultures, and there is plenty of that right here in Windhoek. Also, there isn’t someone I can travel with, personally, and I’m not a “group travel” type. I also feel that Penduka has been best served by my being around. As an older volunteer, the part of Peace Corps Service that is absolutely valid – giving people an opportunity to see parts of the world they may never have the opportunity to see again – is less important to me than the opportunity to use some of the decades of life experience I have to try and contribute something to people I have grown to love and admire.

Like virtually anything one admires, there is also a less positive side to life here. Some of what I see here in Namibia, and at Penduka, is fundamentally disturbing to me. The people in Namibia – not all but many or most – seem not to have the drive to “get ahead”, to better their lives. Discussions as to “why that is” go on for weeks, months, years, and there is no clear answer from anyone. Some of the causes listed by all of us striving to understand include: colonialism, a history of Apartheid, village/tribal histories and customs, largely rural backgrounds, the heat, the vast openness of a country twice the size of California with only about 2.4 million people (California has over 39 million – 32.5 times the population density), one of the largest income disparities (gaps) in the world, the fact that “all Africans are that way” (not an uncommon thought, but too general for my taste), and on, and on, and on. And I have to laugh (instead of crying) when I remember one person that suggested it was because of the way “Africans carry babies on their backs and the babies spend years only seeing about two inches in front of their faces.” They were serious. Sigh.

I don’t have a special outlook, and won’t explore it now, but that lack of drive, and what I see to be a general low ability to deal in concepts, is part of what Peace Corps tries to impact in the only way I have come to believe is possible – in day to day living with people, getting to know them, and maybe – just maybe – affecting one or two of them.

With the advantage of almost a couple of years of getting to know 31 people pretty well, a few of them very well, and making literally hundreds of acquaintances, I’ve been able to see that it is manifestly unreasonable to ask someone to change a lifetime of habits to move towards something they have absolutely no experience of. Penduka means “Wake Up” – and that’s what the founders of Penduka have been working for since it was founded. Opening someone’s mind is terribly difficult, as we all (or at least most of us) know. Here at Penduka, due to poor management practices for at least 10 years, the “culture” of the organization/village has become one that is very common in Namibia: distrust, assuming the worst, and thinking “management” is lying. That, combined with a sense of entitlement to just being given a decent living, not realizing it can be earned with individual effort, is the most serious and at times destructive problem here at Penduka specifically, and in Namibia as a whole. My time here has been an effort to try and do something about that, as have all of the other PCVs here.

I often think about what I would say to a group of older people at a recruiting event if I was a speaker at the event. This is likely to happen when I get back to the USA even temporarily. I have come to the conclusion that it is literally impossible to give anyone a summary picture of the 24 hour a day, two year, experience of living here  Of course that is true of living almost anywhere else. I do think the combination of poverty, cultural differences and government realities makes it more difficult here than in many places. But Namibia is probably easier to adjust to than most other African countries. At least that’s what I’m told by people who have been living and working in Africa for three or four decades or more.

But I’m told by PCVs that have returned that re-adjusting to the USA is much harder than adjusting to being here. And that seems to be true for any of the 68 countries Peace Corps works in. I can believe it.

Last week, the third (only three!) tour group I’ve seen at Penduka from the United States came through. We have 6-10 groups a week through here mostly from Europe. The tour guide (Sawa) asks for me ever since his first US tour group almost two years ago. It was fun talking to people without an accent! And being able to just talk without concentrating on being succinct and deliberate in pronunciation takes a little adjusting in itself! But I thought about my daydreams of presenting to potential recruits. And it translated very well to the tour group.

I have a little advice for those of you in the USA who will welcome home a returned volunteer at some point. Give up trying to get a “whole” personal experience vicariously through your returned volunteer, and forgive them if they seem to drift off into thought and seem like they are struggling. The way of life over here is so dramatically different in so many ways there simply is no context for getting a quick (and accurate) “fix” on what it’s like. Sure, bits and pieces can be described if the person is really good at writing, or speaking, and the listener is really good at listening. But the totality? Experiencing some of the personal changes and experiences that came over two years from a 10 minute, or 10 hour, talk? I don’t think it can be done.

So – this time, no pictures. And I’m going to post this purely so I can get something posted and break my literary drought! Sheesh – Oct 30 was my last post? All I can say is that my life here is all consuming, more than anything I’ve ever done. Sure, I’m not great at writing or staying in touch anyway. And my sincere apologies to the many of you who haven’t heard from me personally in WAY too long. But I’m going to try and contact you soon.

I love it here, and it is very, very hard.

And a personal note to my daugher: I have your snake skin for your belt. Killed, skinned and tanned by your dad. It is beautiful. Now I just have to figure out how to get it to you!

Andy

021 “My name is Eva, and I am asking for your help.”

Written: 30 October 2016
Posted:  30 October 2016

 

I have realized recently that probably the greatest single reason I don’t post more entries is that there is always SO much to say! I’m afraid to get started because I want to include it all, and it’s overwhelming.

I don’t seem to be the personality that wants to write, to “put it out there”, as a requirement of my existence. So, even with so much good to say and so many reasonable thoughts, I don’t write at all.

The experiences I have here in Africa, and in the Peace Corps, while not earthshaking in importance, need to be shared with those of you who aren’t in a foreign country trying to establish a life while trying to make a little bit of positive difference with the people I live with. I’m sorry I don’t share more. I spend hours in deep thought about what is happening here – to the people of Namibia, to me, and to my colleagues here.

My normal reaction is to apologize for having the audacity (hubris?) to assume what I say is worth paying attention to.  Or to apologize for not writing more. Hmmm – where is the point, exactly where I don’t have to apologize for anything on either side? Probably doesn’t exist.

Peace Corps life, for me here in Penduka, is unique. But then every Peace Corps assignment is unique. Currently there are about 160 PCVs in Namibia. There were 31 people in my group. Seven of us terminated service early for a variety of reasons, and there are 24 of us left scattered around Namibia. My group arrived here in April 2015 – about 19 months ago out of a 26 month commitment. And we have recently started to talk about our COS conference – “Completion Of Service” – the time we all get together just before our commitment is over in June 2017. How could it have been so long? It literally seems like I got here a few weeks ago. I already know I am extending if the PC permits it, and a number of my group are also considering it.

The latest significant event in my service was this afternoon. It isn’t unusual to have one or two events per day that could easily stick in memory, or that provokes serious thought. What’s different is that I’m going to write about this one – just this one, and get something posted.

This afternoon (a Sunday), one of the women that works here (Emily) asked me in very broken English if I could talk with her daughter (Eva)  who is trying to find a job. Eva is a beautiful and seemingly very smart 25 year old woman with a three year old son and a University Degree in Human Resources Management that she completed in late September, 2016 – one month ago. Emily is a very poor, underprivileged, woman that works in the sewing department. Chances are she lives in a shed made from zinc roof panels hammered together to form a shelter with rugs or sheets hanging from the walls and ceiling to make it a little less “metal” and perhaps to protect from some of the heat. Most of the women here live in this type of shack with a rug over dirt floors, no electricity, no sewage facilities other than a neighborhood  outhouse, and no running water other than a community spigot that serves multiple families. And they raise their families. And they, and their families, are very good people.

Somehow this woman, from conditions of poverty, has encouraged her daughter and made it possible for her to graduate from university. My understanding of these people is so inadequate, and my respect for them is so high. I wish I had words to describe the humility I learn daily in my work here.

Eva speaks very good English, is clearly thoughtful, and very easy to talk to. She contacted me, among others, just to talk and see if I can help her find a job. She was self-confident without being brash, respectful without being supplicating, and I so desperately want to help her if I can.

For me, the fundamentally most difficult part of Peace Corps service is the inability to do anything about so much. And I have it much better here at Penduka than many PCVs do. I can, and do, celebrate getting a solar power installation here that will likely save them over N$10,000 per month, having a role in getting grants from the Khomas Region Governor that made it possible to build a shade net greenhouse, buy 20 new tables for the restaurant, recover/re-varnish 25 chairs in the restaurant, put running water and electricity in the Aquaponics garden, and in fact getting the Aquaponics garden donated by the Finnish Embassy almost a year ago. Also, with your help, getting a small grant to start the poultry/egg farm. (It is doing very, very well – I’ll send a full report on it soon.)  And there are many examples of success here that I cherish. I do know I’m making some difference. The things I list in this paragraph are in my skills set – getting things, getting money, grant requests, networking, business analysis – that kind of “stuff”.

It is so much harder to effect a change in the people, to help them find the “spark” that will allow them to keep moving forward when we go. How do I facilitate a cultural shift that will celebrate their learning the power of being pro-active, of mobilizing themselves and their community to accomplish something that helps them all, to expand their world outside of what they know now? “The mission of Penduka is to help empower women and their communities to improve their own lives.” Daily, I live with the fear that when I do leave Penduka, months or years from now, things will slip back the same as they have for decades before me. Of course there will be some of that, but it MUST get, and STAY, a little better or the women here will continue to slip backwards as they have in the past.

Unemployment here is over 35%, some say over 40%. The income disparity rich to poor is one of the worse in the world. And a young woman is reaching out for help. There is so much that sometimes overwhelms me with the desperation of not knowing what to do to help the person, or even worse knowing there is nothing I can do about some things.