039_The importance of purpose

13 May 2021

Yesterday I started my daily writing for AAC (my writer’s group) without a clear purpose.  I wrote for about 20 min to post it to WITWIA and ended up just stopping instead of making it coherent and “readable”. It became clear to me (as I increasingly floundered about) that I’d lost sight of “to what end” – the question that should be asked before starting any project of any size.

A long-time friend who is also a writer and a professional film director told me a while back that one of the very few “rules” (more like useful techniques) to writing is to be clear on your purpose before you start. I gained a visceral sense of how important that was in yesterday’s aborted attempt to write a WITWIA article. I share this now because I’m committed to writing every day, improving my writing skills, and “put it out there”. After all, that’s what I need to do to get better at it. As a reader of my blog, you are going to be “treated” to experience my learning curve since you are my audience. Sorry about that!

Fiction writing is not my forte. I’ve tried it off and on over many decades, and I think I get boring quickly. Some authors are exceptionally good at it, of course: for years, I’ve enjoyed the work of Orson Scott Card, for example, who can create entire worlds. Isaac Asimov is remembered among numerous other things for the “Foundation” series, where he also makes a fictional world and social society. The list goes on, of course. The point being, I’m NOT good at that.

Telling a story about something real comes much more easily to me than creating the details out of thin air to make a fictional story more realistic. My attempts at fiction aren’t published – and won’t be any time soon because they are lousy, and they are really short. I mean REALLY short – like getting lost a few sentences in. But you can puruse the earlier 30 or so blogs on this website to see my very early attempts to share life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia.

Or you can stick with me on this journey with WITWIA as I learn to write in a way that (hopefully) will make you look forward to the next blog. Then I’ll be able to describe better what goes on with a 70+ year old man starting a new and exciting part of my life that will most likely end up in some significant traveling.

I’ll also start to throw in some images/pictures/videos to make it more interesting. But bear with me, I’m not there yet.

In 10 days, I leave my house here in Oranjemund, Namibia, and go to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, for a week to do all kinds of stuff and see some people. Then 17 days from now, I depart Windhoek for the San Francisco area for a couple of months. Here’s how it looks from there – and all the reservations in the USA are done and dusted, or “sorted” as they say here.

San Francisco Bay, California, area June and July, then

Taking the California Zephyr train to Chicago with a dear friend I’ve known since I was 23.

Kansas

Wisconsin

North Carolina

Maryland

Starting early September, I’ll either go back to Oranjemund to stay, or go back for a while and leave again, or not go back and start wandering around the world. Lots of factors will impact that. I’ll let you know what happens!

Follow my blog (button on the lower right of the home page) and you’ll get an email whenever I post. And THANK YOU to those of you who have commented or liked something. That all goes to encourage me.

038 One unfulfilled desire…

8 May 2021

Oddly enough, it was a Spanish language PBS film, watched in Africa, that reconnected me to my failure to achieve a long held desire. Since I first lived in a country other than the USA, 48 years ago, I’ve wanted to be fluent in another language.

Mind you, saying “I’ve wanted to be …” is kind of like saying “I’d like to be an author” and it pretty much bypasses the work required to get there. In all honesty, I haven’t applied the effort I’ve felt was necessary to achieve this desire. Ever. Disappointingly, when I came to admit that to myself just before coming to Africa after having lived, worked, or traveled in 45 other countries, lack of effort has only been one of the more minor problems, here.

I was able to get along on a day to day basis in German when I was living in Germany. I had all of the incentives and positive reinforcement needed. I recall very clearly going into a jewelry store in Bitburg, Germany, and haltingly managing to communicate with the owner in German as I shopped for some kind of jewelry. I did all of the right things, plowing ahead even though I knew I was butchering the syntax and grammar. I needed to make mistakes to learn, and I made plenty.

For some reason, early on in life, I learned that being embarrassed about not knowing is simply not productive and creates a lot more social interaction problems than it seems to solve, and actually serves no purpose. So I struggled, waved my hands a lot, laughed at myself and got frustrated with myself, and managed to often get the extremely helpful shop owner to offer the correct German word for what I was trying to say and could only allude to. I tried, I did try, and walked out feeling like I had not done well but had learned something, and felt good about at least trying.

 Then – the memorable thing happened that has lived with me the rest of my life – about 45 years of it since then. As I left the store, I waved with a smile on my face and said “Auf Wiedersehen.” The shop owner smiled, waved back, and said in perfect, accent -free American English “Good bye, my friend. And thank you for working to learn our language.”

What an amazing gift, to just work with me and give me the space to screw up over and over and over, without being condescending or impatient. Sometime when I am trying to communicate with someone and I am having a hard time understanding them, or they are struggling to understand me, I remember that store owner and try to live up to the model he embodied.

Here in Africa, I’ve had many, many chances to relive that lesson. Namibia’s official language is English. But the language makeup of the country is quite varied and complex. Just for fun, I’m going to give you some of the WAY too simplistic explanations for the language landscape in my adopted home.

The official national language of Namibia is English because if any one of the native languages was chosen it would cause internal problems with the others saying “why not me?”, plus English gave Namibia an advantage in international affairs which is an advantage of significance and is especially important for a new country trying to make their way in the big, bad world at large. But it is MUCH more complicated than that. If you are interested see the scholarly paper “A Critical Analysis of Namibia’s English-Only Language Policy” (https://www.lingref.com › cpp › acal › paper2574)

So here I am, a native English speaker, in a country that has one of the most complex language landscapes in the world. Here’s what I mean:

  1. About 50% of the small Namibian population of roughly 2.4 million is Owambo. Other ethnic groups include Kavango (9.3%), Damara (7.5%), Herero (7.5%), white (6.4%), Nama (4.8%) Caprivian (3.7%), San (2.9%), and Basters (2.5%).
  2. Oshiwambo (the language spoken by the Owambo people ) has seven major dialects, only two of which have a written form. But anyone that speaks an Oshiwambo language can pretty much get along in any of the other dialects – but it’s not as straightforward as it might seem (of course).
  3. Expand that basic principle of distinctly different dialects within a language group, and the most commonly quoted number of different languages within Namibia is roughly 30, the least I’ve seen being 13, and the most being almost 40 – depending on how you count a language as being different “enough”.
  4. Now recall that the population is only about 2.4 million, with 30 different languages.

When I first arrived in 2015 as a Peace Corps Volunteer I felt deficient and uncomfortable with my inability to understand sometimes. PLUS, the American Accent is rare here, and is difficult for many Namibians to understand. (Of course the tendency to TALK LOUDER IF THE ACCENT IS DIFFICULT is prevalent! And amusing.) Only after being here in Namibia for a while did I come to understand that even the Namibian people have trouble understanding each other! I didn’t feel quite so bad, then.

My first two months in the country, during “Pre Service Training”, I was given instruction in Afrikaans. I was not a star pupil but managed too do well enough on the post-training language test to “graduate”. My examiner (Patrick – a Peace Corps Namibia employee who has become a friend) was dutifully asking me to explain (in Afrikaans) some useful conversational topics such as explaining what color my pants were, how to get to the post office, and how to tell a taxi driver to slow down. Pretty rudimentary. Then he asked me to explain what it was like to fly a fighter airplane! OMG! In the years since, we have chuckled over that one many times.

At my first posting I was working with 32 disadvantaged women in a single village from a number of different ethnic groups. I tried speaking Afrikaans, but only two of them spoke Afrikaans, and they didn’t want to! Afrikaans is unpopular in some areas of Namibia due to it being the language of Apartheid. Lots of trauma and associations there.

So – I took advantage of the Peace Corps policy of reimbursing language training and hired one of the local women to help me learn Oshiwambo – specifically the Oukwanyama dialect. I launched into it enthusiastically and would ask various women during the day things in Oshiwambo hoping to continue to learn more. But for some reason I was having real trouble with it. I would get the pronunciation of a word down, then say it to someone else and they would look baffled, and uncomprehending, and tell me “no, no – that word should be <whatever>”.  I would then lose confidence. Only later was I told that they (in a “fun” way – not maliciously) were messing with me and having a ball doing it! If I said it properly in the Oukwanyama dialect, the Ondonga dialect speakers would claim not to understand and clarify how it should be said. And vice-versa. Of course I didn’t understand it was six of one, half a dozen of the other to them. I’ve come to understand it was a sign that they liked me and had a ball messing with the American! A good bonding and social integration activity, but useless for learning a language.

All of that contributed to our fun, but detracted from my ability to learn the damn language! Rats.

So two years later I move to Oranjemund where the predominant language is Afrikaans (of course – two years after my Afrikaans lessons with no practice) but almost everyone speaks English. I have made lots of friends here, and the Afrikaaners want me to learn more Afrikaans, my Owambo friends want me to learn Owambo, my closest friend is Ovaherero, my domestic who has become literally a friend is Damara, and speaks Nama, and I still haven’t learned to deal gracefully with the “clicks” that are part of the !Kung/KhoeKhoe (or whatever) languages that the US viewer became familiar with in the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” Those clicks are no big deal here – just a part of the language. But my tongue rebels. If you want a good example of daily use of the click language(s), watch the short, interesting, video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CblldKTrLM, plus you will have the added benefit of knowing how to trap a porcupine, in case the opportunity arises!

PLUS – everyone (almost) speaks English. So … I haven’t yet learned to fluently speak another language. Doesn’t look good for the future at this stage. Sigh…

And for those who want to give me a different excuse, no – it isn’t because I’m old. Really.

Please “follow” this blog (button at the bottom right corner of your screen). I’m working to get better at it (but ONLY in English!) and it really helps to know people are reading it!

037 – Managing Excitement – more than a travel article

7 May 2021

(Postscript – added after publishing. I realize some of this repeats information from 035, but the emphasis here is on how it is affecting me more than the practicalities of planning. So – forgive the duplication. I’ll get better!)

If only living could be simple. At times like this, I feel like I’m visibly vibrating with excitement. I’m preparing to start on at least a couple of months, potentially much longer, of travel, visiting, and meeting new people – making new friends. But I’m also at one of those points in life where a renewed sense of purpose is almost palpable.

The challenge now is to focus, and to choose where to apply my energies and attention. I’ve often advised people of two very basic principles I learned from others:

  1. When making a decision, it isn’t picking one that is difficult, it is letting go of everything else that you might have done instead.
  2. When you say “I have no time” that’s not the real problem. The true challenge is to realize you haven’t chosen your priorities.

At 71, I reluctantly have come to a sort of stand-off with the reality that there simply isn’t enough time to do everything I want. While I realize not everyone is like that, it is an overriding truth in my life.

This morning, I forwarded an article to a friend here in Oranjemund about a recent acquaintance who specializes in the possible application of astronomy to cultural change. The idea was to let him know about an idea for getting the “Astronomer” (actually, an AstroPhysicist – but by her own admission that word tends to frighten people!) to prepare a conceptual proposal to integrate her ideas into a project I’m working on. As of now, I’m not sure she will be able to participate, but I’m hoping so. I’m going to quote myself here because for the first time in six years in Namibia I managed, in the opening paragraph, to succinctly capture the dilemma of many people who come to Africa:

I’m suffering from living with two equally powerful forces: the excitement that overcomes me with possibilities, side by side with the experientially inevitable crushing disappointments of lack of understanding, interest and attention to what an envisioned project could mean for Namibia and Oranjemund. Additionally, there is a widespread inability to see how implementation is different from having ideas. With that bleak intro, I have an(other) idea.

As I sit here trying to figure out how to express all of the thoughts and feelings flying through me like a locust swam invading a grain field, I just had to express, as best I can, what that all means.

I haven’t traveled, for traveling’s sake, in many years. In one month, I leave Oranjemund to be back in the USA, and near my daughter, for two months. I’ve only been back twice in six years, both times for just a few days. When I left, she was 20 and just coming to grips with the adulthood in front of her. While I’m there over the next few months, she turns 27 and has gained the experience that comes to everyone, plus some unique abilities to deal with a life that is unique to her. I am so looking forward to getting to know my daughter again, although we do talk on zoom and messaging with some regularity. It’s just not the same as being there.

I’m also in the USA to clean out/up my 42 foot (13 meter) sailboat “Inspiration” that was my home for the vast majority of 25 years, and which I shared with my daughter for about 7 of those years. She is going to spend some time helping me go through literally everything I own that I don’t have in my house in Namibia. I’m sure there will be nostalgic memories and family stories as we run into various things, and some boring “just get it done” times. I’ll also have time alone in my previous home, and on occasion Tim, a good friend, will help. When the possessions are cleared out, and the boat is thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned (I’m hiring someone to do that, I hope!), it is going up for sale most likely. And it’s time.

I’ve never had much difficulty in “letting go” of possessions. Although that boat was my home through some very meaningful times, it is in some ways a piece of plastic/fiberglass, teak and metals. I carry my home with me in my heart, but my housing can change. I love my two bedroom house in Oranjemund, but it is distinctly different to live in the Namib Desert coming from having floated on the Pacific Ocean or one of its bays for the better part of three decades.

When the boat is sorted, and I’ve had time with my small family, I head off on the California Zephyr Railway for Chicago – a trip I am really looking forward to! Then I’ll hop my way across the US, at least part of the time on trains, to Milwaukee Wisconsin, Wichita Kansas, Beaufort North Carolina, and Bethesda Maryland – visiting friends in all those locations. Come the end of August, I’ll decide if I’m going to return to Namibia to stay, or leave again shortly to continue traveling, or possibly not return to Namibia yet and to keep travelling. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to get some “oomph” behind building a museum to house the artifacts of the “Bom Jesus” shipwreck found off the coastline near Oranjemund in 2008. I’ll devote at least one full posting to that situation before long, but basically it hasn’t gotten off the ground yet. I’m determined to leave behind enough information on the modern concept of a Museum, and a vision as a stake in the ground, that if the right people can be located, and activated, we could create a museum that would change the economic future of Oranjemund and southern Namibia by its impact on tourism. It could likewise serve to help open the minds of Namibians to the greater world that is available to them. The educational opportunities for youth are staggering, and the scientific value of building a center for archeological and cultural studies would benefit everyone. The project is visionary, will require strong political will, and a degree of open mindedness that is not common in the government of Namibia in the face of the substantial challenges faced by this young country. It is intensely political. I don’t see myself having a role in managing, or benefitting from, the venture but will consider it a major life achievement if I can play a small supportive role in getting the project started with a reasonable chance of success.

I hope to encourage the Museum to be undertaken as a proper Museum project – not just a building to put stuff in. The educational, cultural, and scientific benefits that would derive from doing it right are truly monumental. On a personal basis, it is the epitome of applying a quote I love from Edward Everett Hale, an American author who said (one variant):

“I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

I’ll have more to say about him in future posts.

I’m balancing personal excitements that all involve a renewed sense of purpose: Travels, family, friends, and working while afar on projects within my new home in Namibia. I look forward to learning how to better express these opportunities to you and welcome your inputs and reactions.

As always, please “Follow” this blog with the button at the lower right. You’ll get an email when I post a new blog. Your interest helps me a lot.

036 – Planes, then trains, then ???

If you noticed, my latest blog wasn’t appearing at the top of the blog page. That should be fixed, now. I have a LOT to learn about how to run a blot site! I’ll just add one new “learn” per day and maybe within a month or so I will have the minimum level of competence. We’ll see.

PLEASE do “follow” this blog (button at the lower right). All that does is notify you by email when I post a blog, and it helps me know people are watching so I need to keep up with the writing. I expect more “exciting” blogs come June-July, then I start serious traveling in August. But I’m going to post a lot before then. I’m committed to daily writing with my small writer’s group, and many of the daily writings (like this one) will end up on the blog. I’ll make sure and put some “news” in more and more often so it isn’t just a description of me contemplating my figurative navel all the time. 

Oh, for those of you that commented – thanks! This is going to get me back in touch with all kinds of people I have neglected to write. My next step in learning how to run the blog will be figuring out how to better reply on comments, etc. I know it’s all possible, I just don’t know how as yet.

Yesterday I booked a trip from the Bay area to Chicago on the California Zephyr in early August! I’ll be travelling with a friend which will be the first time in many years I’ve taken a trip with someone! It’s about time. (Now you know what the title of this blog means.)

While making those reservations, I got more acquainted with Amtrak, and will probably try to make my way across the USA completely by train, or at least as much as possible. I have the beginnings of a trip web site started, and may be able to link to it so you can see routings, dates, etc. I have the time, and will save a lot of money. Since I’m not bounded by time constraints, it will probably be much more enjoyable.

The number of things to take care of is daunting, but I’ve started meditating daily and that helps with all kinds of things. There is a calendar on the wall in front of my desk that goes to the day I depart Namibia and start my trip, and there aren’t that many days left! Aich.

I’m publishing even short posts (like this one) as a matter of training for myself. Try not to be too bored by these early posts – I’m training myself to be more public so when I do start traveling it will be easier to write about it with less self-awareness.

I really am starting a new phase in life at 71, and I like it! I just need to make it more interesting for you guys to read! 

Andy

035 On the Move! (again)

28 April 2021

As this is being written, I’m listening to my Spotify playlist “ADG African” (ID “TekhneGuy”, or you might see “agarrison71”) – you are welcome to share it if you like.

Today I start making serious plans for travel, departing Namibia on 29 May for at least three months, possibly much longer. I’m going back to my USA home in the San Francisco Bay area and visit my daughter and small family there for the first couple of months. I’ll also be clearing out my boat “Inspiration” that has been stored out of the water since April 2015 with everything I own (that’s not in Africa) aboard. Most likely, unless my daughter has other desires for the boat she lived on often as a small girl, I will sell the boat that was my home for the vast majority of 25 years before I left for Africa in 2015. End of an era, moving on, etc.

I feel a renewed sense of purpose now that my Residence Permit for Namibia is approved and I have a flight ticket for the trip. It feels odd to get a one-way ticket. In Early August, I’ll leave the SF Bay area, and take the California Zephyr Railway to Chicago, then hop my way across the eastern USA visiting some very good friends – ending up in Bethesda, Maryland, sometime in mid-late August. From there – I don’t know what will happen. I’ll either go back to Namibia or keep travelling. I’ll keep you posted on this website.

It feels good to be writing on WITWIA again – and I think there will be more consistency now. Not only do I have more of a sense of purpose, but I’ve joined with two very good friends in a “writer’s group” to encourage each other and hold each other accountable for our commitments to the small group. My commitments to the group fold nicely into my intention to write for WITWIA much more often, so I intend for you “dear reader” (that sounds so quaint!) to have more to see on WITWIA from this point forward.

I think WITWIA will end up being a combination travelblog, personal blog, and (hopefully) somewhat provocative view of life as I see it. There is a certain freedom in being 71 that lets me speak up a bit more freely than I’ve felt comfortable with for most of my life. I’m sure I’ll write more on that at some point. And yes, I’ll start including pictures and videos at some point! Hang in there.

There is a page “Ideas for future blogs” on the home page that lists what I’ve come up with for topics at this point. Most of the ideas are quite old, but still relevant. If you have something you’d like to see me talk about, please leave a note on that page.

The  site is pretty rudimentary at this point. I plan to improve it as time moves on: for instance letting you “like” or “upvote” one of the topics on the Ideas page so I can address the most popular ones. Until I get that working, feel free to tell me what you would like to see in the comments box on the Ideas page.

It would be great if you “follow” this blog with the button in the lower right corner. I look forward to staying in touch as travel plans develop over the next year.