032 – Reset

This is my first in what I intend to be a new trend – shorter and more “in the moment” posts.

REQUEST! A few people told me they commented on my last post “031 Why Africa” but I never saw them! I have no idea why (at least as of now). I posted a comment myself (not as the site owner) on that blog, and it seems to have worked correctly. Now the request: Please post a quick comment if you are inclined – I want to make sure the feature is working (now?).

On to the reason for the title: “Reset”
I’m in the process of making a major decision to go on a LONG trip, departing within the next year or so. The intention is to take a mode of transportation back to the San Francisco area (like a passenger on a container ship when they start accepting passengers again!) and stay in a bnb for a month or so visiting with my daughter and clearing out my boat currently in storage in Napa. When I leave the area, the goal is to have personal effects off or handled, and the boat up for sale or sold.

After that – travel with no end point determined. I read a story recently by a woman who had been travelling for over five years. Turns out it was WAY less expensive than even a long trip than I had previously envisioned. Destinations determined on the fly, but staying about a month at each destination point anywhere in the world.

I’ve been working “make a difference” here in Namibia and enjoyed not every, but most, minutes of the time. But life takes its own pace, and I’ve been increasingly personally off center. So I may take the next few years to travel, meet people of a similar mind set, and think, read, talk, see, listen, taste, probably suffer a bit (well, maybe just be uncomfortable – I’m going to try and avoid the “suffer part), question, learn, write, take pictures, meet people, move on, stay, and pretty much do whatever seems most appropriate in the moment

Not decided as yet, and LOTS of details yet to come. But I’m going to BLOG the process here.

Meanwhile, I’m going to host discussions with the TED Circles program – I may contact you with an invitation to participate.

I also need to be MUCH better at understanding and using this blog space. Online education and training to follow on how to make this space MUCH, MUCH better!

Contact energizes me – please comment, or follow by clicking the button at the bottom right corner.

031 – Why Africa?

(Mostly written in March, 2020, this was “pre-COVID”, “pre-Election”, “pre-California Fires”, etc.. The first half of this was written before most of 2020 had (thankfully) disappeared into history. 2020 pretty much sucked looking back from mid-November 2020. There are a few updates at the end of this post.)

One month from today (ed: “today” is 15 March 2020) I will have been in Namibia for 5 years. Over four years in the “bubble” of the Peace Corps, and for over half a year as an American ex-pat in Namibia. The practicalities of living here – buying property, a car, and (required) registration as a Namibian tax payer (though one with zero income!) – can obscure my love of my USA home – Sausalito, California. I have called Sausalito home for many, many years and will probably have lived there more there anywhere else, ever, when I stop counting. I will continue to return to Sausalito, and the USA, as long as I live – most likely. But then “life is what happens while we make other plans”. (attrib: various)


Yet here I am in Africa. Many people ask why, and I understand the curiosity. I’ve asked it of myself, and tried to come up with answers for others.


As the saying goes: “It’s complicated.” I can’t begin to make a list – But I’m going to try and express some aspects of what makes me continue to return here to Africa, and particularly to Namibia and Oranjemund. Most likely, I’ll fail. I have no delusions of being a writer, and extremely talented writers have tried to describe Africa, it’s soul, problems, joys, and realities. So I’m doing this mostly for me. Hopefully you’ll find it at least passably interesting.

Having returned to the USA only twice since April 2015, three things continue to stand out to me about North America. They are separate and distinct, and reliably consistent from personal visits, from talking with friends and family there while I am here, and from friends here who go there to visit and share their own impressions.

But before I get into those things, let’s first acknowledge that the USA isn’t one thing – it isn’t homogeneous. There are people living in my country (the USA) who suffer deeply from poverty, social marginalization, and a myriad of other causes that are deeply disturbing and serve to define their opportunities in very real ways. Saying “Things just work” (#1 below) can be portrayed as laughably naïve when applied to neighbourhoods in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or New York, or Dallas – just anywhere really. It is also unavoidably referential (see #2 below). Ultimately, I can’t begin to defend what I’m saying below as “truth” – it is expressed from my experience. That experience is woefully inadequate in many areas, and deeper than some in others. But it is my experience. As I said: “It’s complicated.”

  1. I like the way things just “work” in the USA.
    Until you’ve lived somewhere that doesn’t assume things work, it’s hard to describe. Of course it isn’t consistent –rolling blackouts, water shortages, people being late to meetings, internet failing, being able to get fast food or set an appointment, etc. all happen everywhere, but they are much, much more reliable in the USA than in the parts of Africa I have experience with personally (which is a miniscule part of the continent), or some knowledge of through my African friends, here. .
  1. With rare exceptions, American citizens – particularly (but not exclusively) those of us with middle or upper level economic conditions – have absolutely no idea how much we take for granted.
    Citizens of the USA are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunities we have. Yes, there are very serious problems and issues – and they matter.
  1. Finally (and most provocatively), I simply do not miss the USA.
    My daughter and friends, yes I miss them. But the rest of it I just don’t miss. I don’t dislike it, I just don’t miss it. I know that is repetitive, but it is a profoundly significant differentiation. I’ll enjoy it when I got back again to visit, but I don’t miss it. Sure, there is some temporary pleasure in not being forced to deal with the political polarization that is so ubiquitous now, but “this too shall pass”. I fear this particular period is going to do some real damage to my country, and to the world, from which we won’t recover for decades, and we certainly won’t recover to what it was like “before”. Frankly that could be a good thing. It all depends on what we (the citizens of the USA) decide to do moving forward. I wish I was more optimistic.

That being said, why is Africa my “Home is where the heart is” choice?

(From this point on, I’m writing on 8 November 2020 just after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election (pending the ubiquitous legal cases that follow Trump around like fruit flies, or more appropriately like jackals following a hyena).
Frankly I am REALLY happy to have been outside of the USA in the last year.

In either late February or early March, a friend at the U.S. Embassy here in Namibia called me and asked if I wanted a seat on the last airplane the Embassy had arranged to evacuate U.S. Citizens back to North America before the COVID lockdowns. I replied something like “Thank you for thinking of me buried away here in the isolated southern tip of Namibia, but ARE YOU CRAZY? I’M STAYING RIGHT HERE!”

Oranjemund, particularly, has been one of the safest areas in the world from COVID because it is so isolated here (check out Oranjemund on any map or Google Earth). Yes, we’ve had cases but nothing like the majority of the rest of the world, and particularly not like the USA. And being here forced the politics in the USA to be available from a distance – a distinction for which I felt incredibly thankful this year. (Not that Namibia doesn’t have its political challenges – but that’s for another day and another blog entry.)

Aside from COVID and U.S. politics, why do I like Africa? Things here are a bit more – fundamental. Literally yesterday I was walking out my kitchen door and just happened to see the faucets on my kitchen sink. They are old (ca. 1950’s when the house was built), and nothing like the up to date faucets in most middle class homes in the USA, but they deliver fresh, clean (and hot) water pretty reliably – at least they do here in Oranjemund which is a very unusual Namibian town. Not at all the norm. My small two bedroom house is adequate, not “fancy”, and I am comfortable. For me, that’s enough, and preferred.

Countless people have tried to describe Africa, and Namibia, and Oranjemund, for many, many years and they are MUCH more eloquent than me. My contribution to the endless (and growing) volumes of “Africology” can only come from my limited experience. I am moved, literally to tears occasionally, by the enthusiasm of Africans of all skin colors that shows up in dance and singing at the slightest excuse. I am equally distressed at the poverty and lack of education of such large parts of the population. I continue have a growing understanding of the rich history that I knew nothing of in my western education. I revel in slowly, slowly making good friends with whom I can share conversations from astoundingly different backgrounds but a shared commitment to seeking and understanding the others’ experiences. I constantly am challenged by the realities of being in the 2.7% of the Namibian population that is white and realizing that racism as it is known in the USA is not as big an issue here, but Tribalism – social stresses between different cultures of non-white (and white, but we don’t call it tribalism) cultures – is a HUGE problem here. To the best of my knowledge (and I’ve looked into it), I’m the only American (North, South or Central) in the southern half of Namibia – an area roughly the same size as California. It used to be weird, but now I feel much more like “just a Namibian among many”. And I like that.

I can go on, and on – and hope to in my future blogs. In short, I am content here in Namibia, and enormously grateful for being able to live an interesting, challenging, and to a small degree contributory life here as I go through my ‘70s. I couldn’t be happier, or more challenged.


I’ve generally been really crappy about blogging, but some current decisions and plans cause me to make a renewed pledge to myself to blog more. You won’t see a lot of images, this isn’t a travelogue, but rather will be presented with a bit of exploration of my own path through some interesting choices and environments at this point in my life. If I’m able to carry it off, you will see some extensive travel experiences (and images) when (if?) I start a long trip I am planning for next year which will include a brief return to the USA. But more on that, later.


See you again soon on the pages of this blog.

I love to video chat by the way and would be thrilled if want to catch up even if it’s been years. If you don’t know me and just want to chat about Africa, or whatever, contact me and we’ll set it up.


I plan to start hosting a TED Circle for conversations about “stuff that matters” (specific topics to be determined). Let me know if you’re interested in good conversation and meeting some new people.

030 – Africa, After the Peace Corps

Written and posted 3 February 2020

This is largely a “catch up” with my own situation. Future posts will include more information on projects, Africa, and other such items of interest.

I ended service with the Peace Corps on 17 August 2019. Staying in Namibia, I’m purchasing a property in Oranjemund and planning to stay there until a couple of projects are completed. Home is still in Sausalito, officially.

As positive as I am on thePeace Corps, I’m glad to no longer have it as the “bubble” I live within here in Africa. It is interesting how different things seem when I don’t have to be always aware of PC rules and reporting expectations. They aren’t unreasonable given that it is a government institution, but I find it easier to do the right things for my community without the overhead of expectations and reporting metrics that come with being a PC Volunteer.

If you are young, I strongly recommend volunteering – what you will get out of it is worth so much more than the time you spend in service. If you are older (as I am), I’d drop a line for a bit more of a conversation about what to expect and how to make your best decisions. I still think it’s a very good option, but there are things to consider as a 50+ volunteer that just don’t impact someone younger. The tag line “the hardest job you’ll ever love” is no joke. Take it seriously.

My primary project the first 2.5 years in Oranjemund was to set up OMD 2030 as a sustainable and self-governed NGO, working with Sue Cooper and Debbie Virting – both residents of Oranjemund. I am happy to say I have almost no direct impact on that NGO anymore outside of some clearly defined boundaries, and it is functioning as a healthy and growing non-profit NGO that was recently funded through 2020. One of my jobs is to work on funding beyond 2020, and I’m looking forward to helping out with that. While I still have an advisory role largely for financial affairs and for the Management Committee and governance, it simply isn’t my “baby” anymore. I couldn’t be happier about it. But it’s always hard to leave something you worked hard to start. All is as it should be, and this has been the plan from the beginning. You can keep up with it on www.OMD2030.com, or you can send me a return comment on this blog, or email andy@omd2030.com, asking to get copies of “The I”, the OMD 2030 newsletter published quarterly. It’s WAY cool what this citizen’s association has been able to accomplish.

Now that OMD 2030 is on its own, I’m concentrating on two major projects and a few smaller ones:

I’m still persevering in getting a National Museum started. The key displays will be based around the shipwreck of the “ Bom Jesus” in 1533 (you can see a short video). But the museum itself has a working title of “The //Kharas Cultural Museum (KCM)”, and will be an educational, cultural and research hub – by design. Unfortunately, it is really hard to get it going because the Namibia Government is facing severe financial and managerial challenges. I’ll post updates on this project as it (hopefully) starts to make some progress.
Locally, a few of us are working to start a Community Newsletter for Oranjemund. This is MUCH smaller in scope, but cannot succeed without community involvement. I’ll post some updates on this project, also.

A few of you have expressed an interest in contributing to projects over here. With thanks, I’m going to ask you to hold off until I have established an accountable, transparent and reliable structure to receive funds and ensure they go for the intended purpose. Stay tuned – particularly the Museum project will need all the help it can get, but we’re not ready to receive funds as yet. On the other hand, OMD 2030 is legally prepared to receive funding and if you want to contribute let me know and I’ll tell you how. It received a “no errors” financial audit by a chartered accountant in its first year of operation, and is in the process of being audited now for the second year – 2019. Copies of the audit reports are available – it’s like a 501.3.c non-profit organization in the USA.

As a non-Peace Corps Volunteer working in Africa, I’m content and facing all the normal stuff life throws at us. At the moment, I’m in Cape Town, South Africa, sitting in a coffee shop writing this. Some health issues came up (naturally as soon as I left the medical coverage of the Peace Corps) and very good health care is available in Cape Town. I should be back to Oranjemund next week.

I was fortunate to find a VERY good book that is filling my time while doing a lot of waiting here in Cape Town. “Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour” (Martin Meredith). Coming from the USA we feel like we know a bit of history from studying the history of the USA and to some degree (if we were lucky) that of Western Europe. Having been in a small corner of Africa now for almost five years, I am just now realizing how rich is the history, and culture, of this continent. I highly recommend this book (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, others) if you have the slightest interest in opening your horizons to what goes on in the rest of the world outside of the bubbles all of us live in based on where we were born or grew up. The more I know, the more I realize I know so very little.

By the way, if you are interested in seeing the size of the United States vs. Africa, check out the image at True Size of Africa, but prepare to be humbled. I had no idea …

It’s been so long since I last posted. Sorry. I will (as always) try to be better. Maybe not so polished, but more frequent postings.

If you enjoy reading this, please click “Follow” in the lower right corner of your screen when you are on the top of the blog page. You won’t get junk email, and it will encourage me to post more often.

Thanks for reading,

Andy

029 – Reflections and Projections

Written:               30 March 2019
Posted:                    5 April 2019

I wrote this a week ago, and delayed because it (1) wasn’t finished, (2) had no pictures, (3) was “too introspective”, etc. But I’m putting it out there today because it’s at least there and I haven’t posted in WAY to long! It is all text, and my musings, but here it is.

On 15 April, I will have been in Namibia for four years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My last posting on this blog was in July 2018 and I sincerely apologize for taking so long to post, again. What usually stops me is that there is so much to say, it is daunting. The first part of this posting is kind of factual, and catching up. The last part is musing about Peace Corps Service, learning to live in Namibia, and other not-so-well-defined topics.

If you are a younger/ish potential volunteer, I’ll try to include some perspectives of interest, but I’m about 40+ years ahead of the average age of PCVs, and I don’t pretend to understand ‘yall well enough to predict how you will react to this country, or to service in the Peace Corps. Many/most of my PCV friends here, however, are early to mid-20s and they are getting along just fine and enjoying themselves, plus doing a LOT of good here. Google “Namibia Peace Corps Volunteers”, maybe add “blogs” to the search, and you can hear from them directly.

Particularly to the younger potential volunteers: I can offer some hard-earned experience. First and foremost, if you are interested in volunteering, but “just aren’t sure” – DO IT! There are downsides, as there are to anything. The two+ years in another country, learning to live with and communicate with people from a different culture will be one of the most valuable things you ever do. What you will gain is well worth the loss of income for two years. “Hands down”, no qualifications, volunteer. It won’t be perfect, but it will be exceptional and offer things not often available to you in life. I have never regretted it and I’ve been here twice as long as usual by extending twice – which is unusual.

If you are 50+ (which was almost twenty years ago for me!), I also encourage you to “just do it” (I’ve always hated Nike for taking that phrase into the “trite phrase” lexicon). I’ll spend most of this blog talking about you guys and girls – with some encouragement and some cautions. But the basic response is the same as for the younger set. Unless you have a specific reason for NOT volunteering, if you are intrigued but not quite sure – absolutely volunteer. There are, however, some qualifications to this advice for this age group. Not reasons not to do it, just advance notice of some of the things you will run into that the younger set usually don’t deal with (at least not as much).

For a perspective I come from, while I’ve not enjoyed every moment of my service, I have been happy, challenged, and busy every moment I was here. I have always felt it was the right thing to do, for me, and never once regretted it. I am even figuring out how to stay in Namibia and continue “volunteer” efforts when my Peace Corps service is over in mid-August after 52 months in Namibia. I am a “pensioner” (as they call it in Namibia), and being a PCV beats the hell out of living next to a golf course. If you relate at all to that comparison, I encourage pursuing your volunteer service. If you look forward to living next to a golf course or your personal equivalent of that, being a Peace Corps Volunteer probably isn’t the best choice for your next few years. Nothing wrong with it on either side, but it just ain’t the same thing. The PC tag line “The hardest job you’ll ever love” is not a joke, and is not trite. I’ve had some very demanding jobs in my life, but the work I’ve done here is one of the most challenging things I’ve done in a challenging life, and is clearly one that I love and would do again in a heartbeat.

My service, and my blog, is not a travelogue. Many/most younger volunteers, and a lot of older ones, treasure and take full advantage of at least being in Africa to travel, vacation, and experience lots of locations you may never get to see again. You won’t find photos of me jumping off a cliff into an African River (many of which are populated by crocodiles, hippos, and other unpleasant company – not recommended), but many of the PCV blog sites are full of that. And it is a valuable experience. I’ve just had the pleasure of traveling around the world much more than most, not as much as many, but I don’t need to continue looking for new things anymore. I learned a while back that I could easily spend the rest of my life going somewhere else, looking at something new, or seeking something better. Again, if that’s what floats your boat, go for it. Particularly if you are in your 20s. I did some of that, and wish I’d done more. But my life is about something different, now, as much as I still enjoy trying and experiencing new things.

I rarely take vacations here because I am vitally interested in the work I have been doing. For the first two years I was working with an established NGO (the oldest one in Namibia) called Penduka Trust. They help disadvantaged women earn a living. One of the distinct joys of those years was living in a totally unique home made of recycled beer bottles on the edge of a lake in a protected “bubble” that was beautiful, safe and comfortable in the middle of Katutura, one of the most poverty-stricken areas in Namibia. It is part of Windhoek (the latest city in, and the capital of, Namibia), and holds 2/3 of the population of Windhoek, most of the people living in shacks made of corrugated iron sheets with dirt floors and a single water faucet for 20+ families, and a single outdoor pit toilet for the same. Katutura is home to over 200,000 people. There is a lot of material in earlier blogs about Penduka.

The last two years I’ve been in Oranjemund on the far southern tip of Namibia next to the Atlantic Ocean and the mouth of the Orange River. My work here has been to create an NGO (OMD 2030) for the community that is now a Voluntary Association, a legal entity, to empower the citizens of the town to transform the town from a single-industry (mining) town literally owned by the mining company (Namdeb) to a diverse economy. Namdeb has declared mine closure planned for 2021, which removes the economic basis for the community. I haven’t figured out a quick way to describe the town, or my work, in a satisfying way so I’ll leave that to another blog. For now, I’ll just say I feel good about my work as being worthwhile. The NGO is now completely under Namibian management, AND it is funded for all of 2019 with a strategic plan to keep it funded at least through 2021. My project, OMD 2030, is establishing a firm record of actually implementing programs it works on (which is not that common here), and that is one reason we are getting funded reliably. We’re in the process of making some major web site changes, but you can visit http://www.omd2030.com for a taste of what we’re about.

Frankly I feel great about OMD 2030. Together with Sue Cooper, a Namibian imported from the U.K., who has lived in Oranjemund for many years, we created OMD 2030 literally from nothing just over a year ago. We used the excellent work by two consultants that had been working with Oranjemund for a couple of years to help guide us in the initial implementation and still stay in touch with one of them as she continues to work to help the town survive and prosper. Remembering that as an entity we are barely over one year old, check out our latest Newsletter  – written by Sue: The “i” – OMD 2030 Newsletter, March 2019.

If I leave after my PC service ends in mid-August, I am reasonably confident that OMD 2030 will continue for many years. I might stay on as a consultant/advisor in some capacity if I can do that without getting in the way of a new PCV to arrive here in June. We’ve been able to get three more PCVs to come to Oranjemund in June: one in Business for OMD 2030, one for the Town Council, one is Health for HIV/AIDS education and youth empowerment. We are also asking for one Peace Corps Volunteer as a teacher for the government primary school to arrive in October. Three of the Trainees arriving in Namibia in April (this month!) will land in Windhoek on Wednesday, 10 April – next week.

There is a reasonably good chance that I’ll stay in Namibia indefinitely after the Peace Corps. It isn’t that I just want to stay here, which some federal bureaucrats insist is my reasoning (it isn’t). There is a very specific and significant program I am passionate about bringing to reality – a National Museum to be located in Oranjemund. The museum, part of the National Museum of Namibia, will highlight the cultures of the //Kharas Region, and feature the artifacts from the shipwreck of the 1533 Portuguese trading vessel “Bom Jesus”. I want to write a blog just about that shipwreck, but if you are curious before I get to it, just Google “Bom Jesus” (that is BOM, not BORN) and you can see all kinds of information on this internationally famous wreck. You can go to The “Bom Jesus” – the age of exploration discovery. for a 20 min video. With a search for “Bom Jesus” on the internet, you can see all kinds of stuff, including National Geographic coverage. Working on a museum to feature that shipwreck and the culture of this region is what I want my life to be about for the next 3-5 years, in Namibia. We’ll see. It would, without exaggeration, change the economy of the //Kharas region, the southernmost part of Namibia and the poorest region in the country by being an internationally visible attraction to a part of the world that has been largely hidden because of restrictions that came with being the source of the vast majority of gem quality diamonds in the world. See The “Sperrgebiet” Tsau-/Khaeb National Park. I might write a blog about that, also.  We at OMD 2030 are applying to be able to run the concessions in the southern coastal area of this park, soon to be opened to the public for tourism. This is one of the ways OMD 2030 will finance itself, and ensure the economic turnaround for the area.

Now for a “tidbit” for the younger potential volunteers: There is a very active emphasis on volunteers staying in touch with each other and supporting each other while you are in-country. In the past three years, the Peace Corps Namibia headquarters (in Windhoek) has done a great job of making this a choice assignment. You’ll make lots of American friends and have some familiar culture to bolster your time here. More importantly, you will have the opportunity, and the encouragement, to make very good friends in the community. The majority of your reason for being here is cultural and personal. If you do nothing else other than help Namibians understand America better, and then help Americans understand Namibia better, you will have been successful. There are many opportunities to make a difference in specific development-typical ways such as projects, fundraising, training, etc. but your primary work is to make friends. Make sure you understand the three missions of the Peace Corps (see https://www.peacecorps.gov/about/). They mean it.

If there is one opportunity for improvement, in my opinion, it would be on helping you, as a volunteer, understand that your service here is about serving the Namibian people and draw your strength from what you produce in that arena. Often this should be quietly with no fanfare (in my opinion). Your projects here are about leaving something sustainable for Namibia, not about getting the headlines or photos of yourself and your American friends in the papers or blogs. There is an element of learning humility early in your careers that shouldn’t be overlooked. One of my favorite sayings is from Nelson Mandela, and I am certain this is a paraphrase: “A cow gives milk to the whole village but it does not make noise. But when a hen lays just one egg that can’t even feed one child it crows and makes noise that everyone can hear.” Don’t mistake your ability to get an article written about you, or to receive very justified and necessary acknowledgment from others, or getting together with your American friends for a touch of the familiar, with making a sustainable difference to your community and integrating with, and learning from, another culture. ‘Nuff said. Everyone’s experience is different.

From this point on, I’m writing this just before publishing it. The rest was written a week ago.

I’ll try to make the next post more informative about Namibia and the work here in Oranjemund. Like a lot of people, I dream of writing – but the reality of writing just doesn’t seem to be a discipline I’ve been successful in developing. So I won’t make a promise – but the experiences I’ve had here are extraordinary.

Finally, I’m reaching out for support if not from you, directly, then for a referral to someone who can help. There are many, many projects that OMD 2030 is actively pursuing, but carefully, to make sure we can succeed at whatever we take on. (See page 8 of the newsletter for an idea of what’s up.) These cost money – not a lot usually – but some. If you are interested in helping out the people of Namibia financially and being assured your money will be used wisely, please let me know via direct email, through this blog, or however you would like. Do NOT send money yet – I need to make sure you are approached with a vehicle for contributing that is completely safe for you and for us, and (at least until August) in accordance with Peace Corps regulations. OMD 2030 is almost entirely unique in this country, indeed in a lot of countries, in that as an NGO we have audited financial statements by a Chartered Accountant (equivalent to a CPA in the USA) for our first year of operation. That has been in the plan from the beginning and demonstrates professional, transparent, and accountable financial operations.

If the “Shipwreck Museum” project gets going (I’ll have a better feel for that after some meetings in the capital city, Windhoek, in late April), there will be a need for finding a sponsor for my staying in Namibia to work on it because the Peace Corps here in Namibia has a policy of not extending anyone after three years. The fact that I’ve been here four, already, is an exception based on the work done here to date. But the Peace Corps will be in the past after August. All I need is a place to live, food, medical care, and basic transportation – no salary. It’s not much, less than USD $2,000/month for a year or two, then the project will be self-sustaining. Please let me know if you would like to discuss being able to support a part of this project in that way. We can make sure your help is transparently and accountably well used with regular reporting.

This blog doesn’t have a huge audience, but it is a caring one. Many of you have already demonstrated that with past fundraising projects I’ve run through the Peace Corps.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve contributed in the past, I appreciate you caring about the work here in simply reading this blog. At this stage in my life, I’ve found purpose and meaning and it does my heart good to know you, as readers, care about others that deserve help in parts of the world you may have never visited.

All my best.

Andy

 

 

 

 

028 – Finally, a new blog. So what am I doing now?

Written: 1-30 April 2018
Posted: 1 May 2018

Updated: 7 July 2018
(So I accidentally published this, back in May, as a “New Page”, not a blog post. Sorry about that! The post is unchanged from 1 May.)

Wow – no post since October. If I try to make this a “catch up” I’ll never get finished writing. That’s one the things that has kept me from posting. So much has happened. I’ll just start at … now.

Peace Corps Service for me has shifted – a lot. Arriving in Namibia in April 2015, I was originally assigned (after training) to Penduka Trust. In June, 2017, I extended my service and by my choice was moved to Oranjemund, Namibia. My extension to a fourth year was recently approved by the Peace Corps (normal service is 26 months. So far I’ve been here for 36.), and as of now I am scheduled to leave Namibia, and the Peace Corps, around August 2019. Assuming I pass the physical soon, that will become official. I’ve now been in Namibia longer than any current PCV, and I’m still happy with the decision.

As an older volunteer, but also with so much time in-country, my perspective differs quite a bit from a more typical PCV. I don’t tend to “hang out” much with the other PCVs (other than Brett – he and I share a two-bedroom home in Oranjemund) but I enjoy the interactions when they do happen, and usually feel welcomed by them even though I’m a couple of generations ahead of most of them. We are getting more older volunteers in the new groups, however. I guess Peace Corps is figuring out we have something to offer! Plus. Oranjemund is VERY remote and Brett and I don’t have many PCV visitors.

The job I have here is difficult to describe in brief, but I’ll give it a shot.

Background:

Maps
Oranjemund, Namibia, is right at the mouth of the Orange River where it empties into the South Atlantic. The river is 5 km away on the south side, ocean 6 km on the west side. There are hundreds of km of sand all around the isolated town. It is VERY remote! What communities are close by (Alexander Bay, Rosh Pinah) were all created by Diamond Mining operations, and are even lower population than Oranjemund. Rosh Pinah is active, but Alexander Bay (South Africa) is spookily quiet and almost uninhabited. Many small diamond mining independent operators live and work out of there. Current population of Oranjemund is unknown, but estimates are somewhere between 4,000 – 10,000. Estimates vary widely.

Oranjemund used to be a mining town completely owned by Namdeb – the Diamond mining company 50% owned by DeBeers and 50% by the Namibian Government. In 2011 it was “proclaimed” a town, which meant Namdeb gave the land (not buildings, infrastructure, etc.) to the Town Council, the Local Authority that is in charge of any Namibian town by law.

The “Town” was started in 1936 as an area to house workers at the diamond mines, mostly on contract coming from Northern Namibia. Some houses were built for mine management, most of which were from South Africa, and dormitories/compounds built for the workers. In the decades after that, stores, a theatre, etc. were slowly added until it started to look like a town. Virtually all of the food was raised in farms owned, and run, by Namdeb. All of those farms have at least changed hands and now belong to individuals, but by far the majority of them simply closed and are abandoned.

Since the first Town Council was sworn in (2012), the town has been trying to get less dependent on Namdeb and start becoming a “normal” Namibian town. It hasn’t gone very fast, and not very well. It used to be that you needed a permit from Namdeb to even enter the town, and they weren’t easy to come by. In October of 2017, the need for a permit was removed and now anyone can drive into Oranjemund at any time.

Describing the history and current situation in Oranjemund is beyond my meager talents to do in a blog, but I can refer you (if you are interested) in a few places to “catch up” on the situation. There are photos, stores, and some such on these sites.

Here is a nice YouTube video about Oranjemund.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IV0l3AMjwSc

And to get more of idea of how remote it is in the Namib desert see the YouTube video of taking off from the Oranjemund Airport (Yup, we have one. It was built to service the Namdeb executives and to permit the Diamonds to be flown to a final destination). Pay particular attention just after the 1:05 mark, and at about 1:30 the town of Oranjemund (small green patch on the other side of the “lake” which is really a very shallow area sometimes containing water. Later in the video you can see the Orange River. But notice the sand – everywhere – around Oranjemund.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4M9NqHx9L1I

My Job In Oranjemund:

I report to the CEO of the Town Council. My job started out as working with the Economic Development office of the Town Council, but within six weeks of arriving, it changed to be the Advisor to OMD 2030, described below. The original form of OMD 2030 was as a “Steering Committee” made up of representatives of the major stakeholders in the town transformation: The Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the Constituency (kind of like a county in the USA), Namdeb, and the citizens of the town. It was a good effort, but it didn’t accomplish much due to rivalries, mis-alignments of stakeholders, lack of a clear direction, no real objectives, etc. etc. I was asked to be Advisor to the group in July, and shifted my responsibilities to function as a Programme Manager until OMD 2030 could get on its own feet. That never happened, however, so we’ve taken a new step.

On 23 February, OMD 2030 voted itself into being as a “Voluntary Association” by Namibian Law – a non-profit legal entity that doesn’t belong to anyone but itself. The constitution we developed stipulates that members cannot represent their organizations (Namdeb, Town Council, etc.) but join as individuals. The Mayor, CEO, Chair of the Management Committee, Namdeb Manager of Town Transformation (and other Namdeb managers), and Chairperson of the Chamber of Commerce are all members. However, the management committee is made of association members that are not any of those persons. OMD 2030 is now a citizen led legal entity that has the mission to “… assist stakeholders in transforming Oranjemund from an economy dependent upon Namdeb to an economically diverse and culturally rich town offering citizens opportunities to create an excellent standard of living.” The steering committee was disbanded at the same meeting the Association was created.

My role, now, is to be Advisor to the Management Committee (MC: six of the members voted into “office” by the general membership). I am working with the MC to get the organization established literally from nothing. While there are associations in a few – very few – Namibian towns that share some relatively minor similarities in mission, there is literally no precedent for this kind of organization. The job of “creating” a new Oranjemund is unbelievably complex. While a good foundation now exists (the Association), the work ahead of us is enormous, and scary. Plus we are not yet funded. For the first time since I got here, there is a reasonable possibility we will actually have a budget and that appears to be due to the stakeholders’ increased confidence that the correct platform is finally in place to do what needs to be done in the community. Saying I am the Program Manager is somewhat misleading, however, and frankly is a outside of the Peace Corps mission. I do not, and should not, manage anything – we are here as advisors.  The fact that we are creating this non-profit out of nothing, however, requires a “driving force” and until a sufficiently experienced and dedicated individual is found and trained, that responsibility lies with me and with the newly formed Management Committee. I have no direct authority, and shouldn’t have any. But part of what I need to do here is to help the MC find a replacement Program Manager before the end of my time here in Oranjemund. That is going to be difficult, as there are very, very few qualified people in Namibia to run this type of organization – particularly not the kind of organization we are intending to build! So – I’m an advisor and very clearly the managerial responsibilities lie with the MC of the Association.

So what is “Town Transformation”, anyway?

The Town Council is deeply vested in trying to get the properties and infrastructure legally transferred from Namdeb so they can sell homes to the many, many people that want to call Oranjemund home. But the very old infrastructure, much of which was not build to ordinary standards because it was essentially a “dormitory” for Namdeb workers, is vexing because it breaks a lot. Water outages due to broken water mains, electricity failures, etc. are common. The Town Council is responsible for all of that – sort of. Until the legal mess between Namdeb and the Town Council is worked out, it is all very frustrating for everybody.

And – many people who WANT to be part of the Oranjemund community are moving out because they can’t buy their homes. This is a major problem.

And none of these items address the really critical job of literally creating a community feeling here. When Namdeb was running things, people felt included and part of things – but everything was set up and arranged, and paid for, by Namdeb. It is a community that isn’t used to being – well – a community! Many people here know that, and want to work on it, but the roadblocks to doing impactful work on creating a community have precluded effective action.

OMD 2030 is tasked with all of that – among other things. I’m concentrating on locating and enrolling the individuals in town that orient to community and trying to develop ways that their efforts can make a difference.

None of this affects a very central issue of needing to attract new businesses, and population, to Oranjemund. That, alone, is daunting. Sheesh. Oh yeah, and to build a Tourism industry, and Agriculture, and Drylands research – you get the idea.

Why does all of this matter? Take a look at Kohlmanskop – that was an active town until around 1956. It is just up the Atlantic Coast from Oranjemund, around Luderitz. Matter of fact, Kohlmanskop was abandoned because they found bigger/better diamonds around Oranjemund. Lots of interesting history there I’ll write about another day.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaHkhmjeAtM

Probably Oranjemund won’t be quite that drastic, but in all seriousness, it could.

On the other hand, there are some seriously big projects that MAY come here, which would revitalize the economy.

In the mean time, I am attempting to help the community take responsibility for their own growth by attracting new businesses and residents, and forming community groups to help the existing poor residents as well as ensure a better way of life for everyone.

Back to Peace Corps jobs in Namibia, in general:

This is a very untypical Peace Corps job, and there is no equivalent in Namibia. It remains to be seen if the Peace Corps decides to continue to support this type of position when (if?) I leave. However, CED (Community Economic Development) is assigning PCVs to increasingly “modern” positions with government and NGO institutions throughout Namibia. The number of PCVs assigned to Town Councils is growing. We have a PCV at Arandis and at Keetmanshoop, and a PCV with the Regional Council (a Region is kind of like a state in the USA) for Kunene Region. They actually work with the Councils directly, and in some cases have been very effective. There is also a PCV that works to help rural communities benefit from natural resources by creating income opportunities for using their resources sustainably. She is now doing that on a national level, after starting in rural areas with elephants literally in her front yard. Other CED PCVs work with groups in vocational training, education for adults, and in the more traditional Peace Corps positions helping groups with making handcrafts, building local organizations, etc.

Currently there are approximately 140 PCVs in Namibia. About 30 in CED, only about six currently in Health (CHHAP), and the rest in education (SUPEP). On April 12 or so, new trainees arrived in country for 10 weeks of training: about 17 CED, and 16 Health volunteers. They will stay for 26 months unless they extend (as I did), which is not rare but is not the normal situation.

So What about Namibia?

Africa, and Namibia, just aren’t what almost everyone in the USA pictures. National Geographic has very recently done some soul searching about how they have portrayed things here. The latest edition of Nat Geo is REALLY interesting, and they do an admirable job of self-evaluation without falling on any swords. When I was a kid I used to go to the attic and look through decades of stored-away Nat Geo magazines, often with the not-so-lofty goal of seeing bare breasts! I’m not sure that was an enlightened way of learning much about another culture, but I doubt if I was the only teenager doing the same thing. More than that, and as recently as shortly before leaving for Namibia in 2015, I still envisioned Africa as villages, leopard skin loin cloths, and kraals. Africa is much more developed than I even conceived of. Getting to know the “real” Africa has been gradual.

I’m feeling bad about not having more images, but if I don’t post this now, it may be weeks before ANYTHING new gets on the blog. Please stay tuned and I’m really going to try and put more up here. There are LOTS of projects that need help, and this blog only lays out the larger picture.

Notes and contacts help me motivate to post more, as does “following” my blogs with the button in the lower right corner. It may not be visible unless you scroll UP towards the top of the blog – then look for the “FOLLOW” button. No advertisements or releasing your contact information, it only sends you an email when I post a new blog. Thanks for reading!