015_Chicks and Thanks

Post Title: 015_Chicks and Thanks
Written Date: 18 Dec 2015
Posted Date: 21 Dec 2015

Forgot to post this before I posted the longer blog yesterday. Sorry!

THANK YOU to everyone who contributed so generously to the Egg Farm Restart project mentioned in post 013 a little over a week ago. A few of you let me know you had contributed, and I think I responded to everyone that did. There were some donors that did not identify themselves at the time, and the list of donors (unless you opted to stay anonymous – and I hope you didn’t!) won’t get to me until the funds are deposited in about another week or so – after federal security steps have been followed.

Some of you were incredibly generous – thank you so much! I know it wasn’t much money overall, but it was less than a week from posting until I was notified that the goal was reached! That is really, really rare even for a small fund raising effort.

Now we are just waiting for the chicks – and they have been ordered. Since the entire country virtually shuts down for the two weeks around Christmas and New Years, it will likely be January before the chicks are delivered. But we have the food, the space to raise them, and are ready whenever they come.

Pictures and updates will be posted on this site periodically.

Now a request, if you haven’t already done so, would you please FOLLOW this blog site if you are interested in the material? It helps me out a little bit with WordPress (hosts the site) and will give you email notification when I’ve posted a new blog. See the button in the lower right corner of this screen.

The women of Penduka were aware of the effort, and were told that the goal was reached and that we are getting the chicks soon. They were VERY excited and thankful. thank you very, very much for your generosity! You have helped to make a little bit of difference for them.

Andy

 

014_The “real” Africa? What’s in it for me.

Post Title: 014_The “real” Africa? What’s in it for me.
Written Date: 19 Dec 2015 – 20 Dec 2015
Posted Date: 20 Dec 2015

The theme of “What is the real Africa?” will probably come up fairly often as I muse in this blog over the next few years. After eight months in Namibia, the topic isn’t as immediate as it used to be, however. There is a sense of just being “here” without trying to figure it out or assess it. I like realizing that it only comes up once in a while, now. I’ll be sitting quietly enjoying the sunset, or the wind on the lake, or the city buildings rising around me, or the stars, when it occurs to me “Damn, I’m in AFRICA! These are the stars in the Southern Hemisphere!” with the capital letters still flashing in my mind.

Sunset

At some level it still feels exotic – but I’m getting used to it, and I like that. I’ve been under the Southern Cross fairly often in my life, but never actually living there / here.

And it’s not all that different. Except it is.

Okahandja Tower

In Okahandja, there is a beautiful community center where my group (41) of Peace Corps Volunteers met for two months during Pre-Service Training. There is a distinctive communications tower prominent in the middle of the city. After several weeks, I discovered that the tower used to be a watch tower during Apartheid – where the communities would be observed to make sure no one from one tribe (Wambo, Herero, Damara, Nama, Colored, Bastars) went into the area of another tribe. Apartheid – literally “holding apart” – segregation pure and simple, and a way to control populations by not permitting them to cooperate, and keeping them uneducated and incapable. And I have met a very few people here in Namibia (not surprisingly, white) who adamantly defend Apartheid to this day. “Things worked so much better!”  It is impossible to overstate the subtle and fundamental ways in which the colonization and subjigation of these peoples have affected their culture and ability to learn and be self-reliant. It was, and the effect still is, insidious. And no, I didn’t take this picture.

Beware

In writing this blog, I was struck by a phrase found in a Master’s Thesis by a Namibian doing his work on “Herero Mall” in Katutura. The thesis is by Ellison Tjirera, 2013, from the University of Namibia. “Things are not as they seem, and what you see barely represents the ‘truth’. Such is the nature of social reality and meaning. The challenge is to transcend mere observation.” I’m not sure I feel qualified to transcend, so I am stuck with mere observation with a liberal dose of introspection.

My own experiences here are unique – but then I’ve come to really understand that everyone’s experience is unique, everywhere. I haven’t seen the lions, giraffes, hippos, incredible sand dunes, magnificent vistas of the savannah, village people (the real ones, not the ones manufactured by the entertainment industry) beating drums and dancing around a fire, herds of Wildebeest racing to escape a predator, or crocodiles grabbing a careless (or young) Kudu stopping for a drink at a water hole. But I have seen some African animals.

Gryffendore

This is Gryffendor – an African feline belonging to Alicia, a PCV in Okahandja. Alicia is now back in the USA, but Gryffendor is terrorizing the home of Val (AKA: Veronica). I can’t remember the last time this predator pulled down a Water Buffalo, but it may come back to me.

Come to think of it, most of the mental images of those “African things” come from television or magazines and a few movies. All of which are interpreted with a liberal dose of entertainment value that by economic necessity ultimately supports the efforts of the image makers. But I do have Kudu steaks in my refrigerator, and Oryx. And it’s no big deal, here. They are available at the supermarket. And I’ve eaten crocodile, and Mopane worms (which are really caterpillars, and are very good with spices, and highly nutritious), and both are also available as staple diet items in supermarkets like Checkers, Spar, PickandPay, Shoprite, and other stores that look very much like the grocery stores I am used to in California. Of course you can also get them at “Tuck Shops” – the little shacks outside of a home that offer things to neighborhoods but they aren’t nearly as fresh and should be purchased with caution. Being in Windhoek, I have such modern stores much more easily available than do my friends in the villages.

Checkers

Yup – this is Africa, too.

But some of my Peace Corps friends here have seen the things most of us identify with Africa, and much, much, more.

Elephants at breakfast

This is the first of two photos that I didn’t take. My friend Scott Richmond was sitting at his breakfast table and took this – really.

Some PCVs live with the Himbas, where women are topless ALL the time – it becomes no big deal. It is their traditional way of dressing. Some live with villagers that have never seen a white person (really! still!) although I occasionally meet a small child that is wide eyed and scared of me because their parents tell me they’ve never been this close to a white man, much less one with white hair and a beard! And they have seen the wild animals, and the sand dunes, and the beauty of Namibia and surrounding countries.

wild horses

But I have seen wild horses scattered haphazardly across the Kalahari Desert, which has a lot more grass, bushes, and hills than I expected.   (Full disclosure: This is the only other picture that isn’t mine. I have one, but the horses are a LONG way away and this one’s from the internet. But they did look like this! The trip I saw horses was the one where I learned to always have a camera easier to get to while in this country. )

And I’ve seen scattered herds of urban Africans bustling around the capital city trying to survive, or get richer, or help their fellow Africans, or take advantage of someone, or look for their next mark to rob, or support their families by washing the windows of someone else’s office who is trying to do one of those things.

Somehow, in spite of all of the travelling I’ve done over the past 66 years, about 77% of which I was old enough to remember fairly well, the incredible complexity of life on earth, and of the human mind, is becoming a reality to me in a way it never did before. I have visited far fewer countries than many people (my friend Vassi being a very good example), more than most (about 45 countries at last count that I’ve lived, worked in, or visited not including airport stopovers), and that’s only about 23% of the nations recognized by the United Nations. Increasingly I understand at a fundamental level the incredible reality of realizing all that I do not know, and will never know. No wonder people have spent their lives searching for a Fountain of Youth. To me, it’s not about the vanity of wanting to remain young, it is about all there is to experience, and what a paltry portion of that I have enjoyed even with a relatively active life full of choices to “try it out” rather than “increase/build what I have.” There was a price to pay for those choices, and there was benefit that I’ve enjoyed. I’m happy to say I’m pretty satisfied with the balance from this viewpoint in my life. Although there were times …

In my home, I notice I don’t mind that I have six (oops, two of them seem to have disappeared) FOUR table knives all but two of which are of different types, and all are old and steel. And the spoons speak for themselves.

Tableware

The background is my dining table top – before refinishing. I’ll show an “after” photo when, and if, it ever happens. My furnishings here are rough, almost all of them second hand but perfectly functional, and I’m still wearing the same shirts/pants/socks/underwear I came over here with. Yes, I’ve washed them – often!

But compared to the people I live amongst, I have easily 10-20 times the physical possessions they do. I just bought my first piece of clothing, here – a pair of khaki shorts, well made, and they will give me years of good use. I did get them on sale. Just like any store in the USA, businesses here have “promotions” (a much more common term). I have two new items: an office chair, and a fold-out sofa (so I’ll have a place for visitors to sleep, but there have been very few of them, fewer than I had hoped). The sofa now has a beautiful custom made Batik cover that was hand made by my friends here at Penduka.

Batik Cover for my Sofa

The design was made by Victoria (large photo on the left), and the sewing done by Kaino (upper right) and Kahaka (middle photo on the right), and maybe someone else. Jenny (lower right) was instrumental in getting it done. Jenny is leaving us the end of January, and will be greatly missed and very hard to replace. These women are my friends, my “family”, and I see and work with them daily. All but four of the 28 women here are away on holiday leave to their home villages, and I find I miss them a lot! Kahaka sewed a bag that goes at the base of my door to keep out the cold, and snakes! She did it on her own and brought it by, today, just to be nice.

But I prefer to see my sofa as it is below (ignore my bed in the background!) All are kids of the women, here, and they love to stop by my place.

Kids on Sofa

People see Africa in many different ways. Here is just one of them.

Map of Africa

My view of Africa is limited to Namibia for the past eight months, and two weeks in Tunisia 40 years ago. Namibia is 2.7% of the area of Africa, and I’m a little familiar with the cities/towns of (in decreasing familiarity) Windhoek, Okahandja, Rundu, Aus, Keetmanshoop (just a few hours and a hell of a good travel story), and a few km either side of the highways between them. Let’s be generous and say that’s 2% of the area of Namibia, which means I’ve seen 0.0054% of Africa. Oh, wait! Don’t forget Tunisia! Hmmm, turns out that the parts of Tunisia I’ve seen don’t even add 0.0001% to my total Africa experience if we go by land area, even though I went deep into Tunisia to Hammamet on the edge of the Sahara. To try to explain what Africa is like would be hubris.

But I have been to the Plains of Carthage where the Roman General Scipio Aemilianus Africanus burned the city to the ground in 146 BCE and left no stone on top of another. (Turns out the “salted the earth” story is a myth.) And I have Herero and Nama friends who remember talking with grandparents who lived through the German genocides of those tribes in the early 20th Century when Southwest Africa (Namibia) was a colony of Germany. It was a kind of training and practice session for the Jewish Holocaust in WWII, but a lot less well known.

My home and work is part of an effort to help low income and disadvantaged/disabled women find their self-respect and self-confidence after hundreds of years of colonial rule. And my neighborhood is made up of people (not a few of them – almost ALL of them over 25) who lived through Apartheid, personally.

One of my friends is now a driver for Penduka and was a resistance fighter for SWAPO in Southwest Africa for 14 years fighting for independence from South Africa in the latter half of the 20th century. Kambalantu isn’t a newspaper, book, or magazine article, he is a man and a friend, he was a revolutionary, and we talk about his experiences regularly.

Liina is discovering in the past six months that she has the capabilities to be an exceptional leader and manager, and she spent the first 35 years of her life as a black woman under Apartheid. About half of the women here spent at least half of their lives being actively prohibited from getting a good education, from gathering with others, and being punished if they tried to exhibit self-determination. And they are working, together, to become something better. And, slowly and imperfectly as is every human endeavor, they are succeeding.

The “real” Africa? Haven’t a clue. But the little corner of Namibia with which I am becoming familiar, and the people I am learning to know and understand, and appreciate, and love, are without a doubt creating an experience in my life that is matchless. I hope I am able to provide them with some very small part of what they want and need to better their lives. They exhibit, daily, the desire and willingness to work for it. It reminds me of what I read our forefathers were like in the USA when our nation was only 25 years old. What this experience, and the people here, offer me is so very much greater than what I am able to contribute.

Maybe that is what Africa does to everyone. I’m hardly the first.

I would appreciate it if you would “Follow” this blog if you are interested. See the lower right corner of the screen. Thanks for reading.

 

013_Penduka, and a little help from my friends

Post Title: 013_Penduka, and a little help from my friends
Written Date: 10 Dec 2015
Posted Date: 11 Dec 2015

First a little about Penduka, then a request – an important one – at the bottom of this post.

Penduka is big, complex, and an honor to work with. Penduka Village is at Lat -22.526440(S), Lon 17.015542(W). Look it up on Google Earth by entering “Penduca Craft” (it is misspelled in Google, but that will find it). It is on the shoreline of the Goreangab Dam Reservoir, one of the drinking water sources for Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

Penduka_Google Earth

The little silver square at the bottom left is the roof of my home. The big square(ish) building houses a restaurant, kitchen, terrace, dormitory for 7 women that live here, a large conference room, a workroom for batik (I’ll show you that in a later blog), a room where about 15 women sew using up to date Singer industrial machines just given to us by the Namibian Government, two kilns and a room where pottery is made and hand decorated, a little bit of office space, and a store room for inventory. On the roof on the right of that big building you will see two sets of solar arrays – insufficient, and donated by (I think) the Spanish government, but welcomed. Our electricity bills are enormous mostly due to ineffective three phase power distribution lines that just grew, unplanned, as the site grew over the years. It can be fixed, but it will cost – and we don’t have the money. The greyish roof in the middle left to right and slightly below center vertically is a room where deaf women make glass beads out of recycled bottles, and where 35 women from the surrounding community (Katutura) and about 150 women from the rural areas around Oshiwarongo (about 2 hours north of Windhoek) gather periodically to deliver embroidery work they do on a piecework basis. Penduka employs 31 women who work here regularly (24 of whom are bussed in and back every day from the community), and four men who are the guards and grounds keepers, and all four of them live here. And I live here.

It’s not exactly your “hut in the bush”, but it is resoundingly African. Not the African I took for granted with roaring lions, elephants, giraffes and water buffalo wandering around but the very real Africa of today, including highly venomous snakes! In the six months I’ve been here I’ve killed two Puff Adders and helped capture a 1.6 meter Black Neck Zebra Cobra (spitting cobra). Not unusual for Namibia. And it is incredibly beautiful. Here is a shot of my house from the water.

Bottle House from the water

The building on the left is my house, and you can see the bigger production/restaurant building through the trees on the right side. This is about 1/4 of the waterfront.

The purpose of Penduka is to support low income, underprivileged women in Namibia with a priority for helping disabled women. Of the 31 women who work here, seven are deaf. Yes, I’m learning some sign language. It’s the only way to communicate with them!

Penduka is a registered welfare organization and a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) – for sure one of the oldest, possibly the oldest, such organization in the Republic of Namibia, which is 25 years old as an independent country this year. Penduka is 23 years old, and for the past several years have been barely scraping along due to lack of good internal management. That’s why they requested a Peace Corps Volunteer, and got me. I am honored to be here, and totally and completely overwhelmed with the work.

When I got here, I did the normal thing of making lists of “stuff” that needed to be done. So let’s look at the business that goes on here. The hospitality section runs a restaurant with full kitchen, six “rondelles” or guest lodges, five “backpacker lounges” with five beds each and external toilet/shower facilities, a convention center, and cultural dancing for tour groups. The Penduka Village Artisans are the women that produce batik, embroidery, sewing, pottery and bead work. The Hospitality section also runs a brand-new “pedal boat” business (we just got the boats donated last month by the Turkish Embassy) that we’re still trying to get going, a large garden that was just restarted two months ago from being dormant, and a poultry house/egg farm with currently about 100 layers, but they are starting to die off and get unproductive. You’ll see more on the egg farm at the bottom of this posting – please make sure you check it out.

Just last week, we were approved to be the first installation of an “Aquaponics” facility that has been in development by the Finnish Government through an NGO “Fish Farmers of Namibia”.  We will be raising Talapia fish in a 1 cubic meter tank, using the water to flood seven or eight 1 meter square gardens filled with gravel and/or charcoal where the algae and bacteria convert the fish water nutrients into nutrients useable by vegetables (spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.) and the water flowing through the gardens is recycled through the fish tank. We will use the vegetables in the restaurant, maybe sell some of them, and use/sell the fish periodically for food when they are replenished by fingerlings (baby fish). We will also have a “domestic” unit that is one cubic meter total, and has the vegetable garden on top, the fish growing below, and is designed to be in someone’s back yard, providing food for a family or a neighborhood. The community around here is very, very poor and nutrition is a real problem. This project is entirely funded for installation, and when it is completed in early January we will start running it to develop the bacteria, and then start raising vegetables probably in early March. This is a VERY exciting project. We will train people, hopefully find funding to distribute “domestic” units, and supply food to the Katutura community.

Aquaponics_4 Dec 2015

Aquaponics just starting installation. The entire setup will be under shade netting.

The culture here can be frustrating if your goal is to get something done. The people here are also frustrated by it. But things just simply don’t work as well – why? That may be the subject of a future blog. I certainly don’t understand it although I do have a few theories that I think account for a good portion of the effect, and well-meaning people in country and from abroad have been trying to make some impact on it for hundreds of years. I doubt if I’ll have a good way to describe it to you, or to try and fix it (the mistake a lot of people have made). But I came to the conclusion after a few months that the most I can possibly do is to help the women who need to run this place start to develop some new skills at the top, and THEY can try to train and help the rest of the organization because they understand the culture, and communications, much better than I can.

So – essentially I am a mentor. We picked four women who “get it”, and know they don’t have the training or skills, but want to develop them. They are getting better and better – running meetings, understanding schedules, and doing the basic stuff the leaders and managers do. But they still don’t understand percentages well, have trouble with what I consider basic math (averages, multiplication, and “per unit” measurements), and it gets worse with the women in the Artisan section. Their skills are fantastic, and they are smart, but their understanding of basic life and financial skills is astoundingly low or missing entirely. It is an enormous challenge.

I have nothing but respect for the Peace Corps system of Development – one person at a time, from the inside. We are encouraged to the point of being required to develop relationships, to get to be part of the community, and to make whatever skills and education we have available to the local folks so THEY can make the difference. It’s great, it’s slow, and it’s enormously rewarding and effective in the long run. It is, indeed, “The hardest job you will ever love.” I am so very happy here, and so very overworked, and in tears with frustration some evenings, and giddy with small successes on occasion. I enjoy this more than anything I’ve done – ever – I think. (Although flying fighters was pretty fun, as was acting. I can honestly say this is the first business job I’ve really just plain enjoyed.)

So if it’s this big, and does so much, what’s the problem?

Over the past many years, the managers here have been brought in, were often not Namibian, and were often either incompetent or larcenous, or both. Or well-meaning but just did stuff themselves instead of really trying to teach the women how to do it and make it sustainable. Frankly I have a lot of empathy for that – it is very, very difficult to change a culture. As a result, the last General Manager (several years ago), for instance, left taking all of the poultry farm expertise with him, together with a lot of equipment, information, and knowledge. Not good. And left the rest of the organization in relative tatters.

Also, for similar reasons the “training” mission has fallen by the wayside, and the mission/vision of Penduka has become muddy and not clear at all. And it shows in the organization. Last week I did a Vision/Mission training session for the senior managers, and they provided very good response. They have some idea why it is important for everyone to see the same forward vision, at least partially. It’s a start.

Penduka has been operating on a shoestring for the past few years, and struggling to make payroll. And the women here earn just barely over subsistence level income for Katutura, which has one of the lowest income averages in Namibia, which has one of the lowest income averages in the world. There are some very wealthy people here, but Namibia also has one of the highest income disparity measurements in the world (although believe it or not, the United States is catching up! Not opinion, fact.). And some of the poorest work here. And they are fantastic people, but I’m already at four pages in this blog, and will have to come back to this topic.

I was raised by a clergyman, spent my early years in churches in very rich and very poor areas of the South, and I had no idea what it was like to be really poor. That is changing, here. One of the greatest things in my life is becoming accepted as a “family member”, the only “Tate” (pron: “Taa te” where te is like the ta in table. It means man, father) in this family of women. In the past six months I’ve started to become accepted – a member of the family – and it is amazing. Theft and hitting up the American for money is widespread in Namibia, but not here at Penduka. In six months, I have had one, only one, employee who has asked me for anything. The people here will go out of their way to pay back a very small amount when I purchase something for them at the pharmacy or store while I’m in town. And theft here at Penduka is unknown at least internally. We have an environment where we can, and are, making a difference in women’s lives, and trying to set them up for success and self-confidence. And they are helping as best as they know how.

My project over the next three weeks (during the Christmas break – I’m staying right here) is to come up with a business plan for a 3-5 year concept for Penduka that has been informally accepted by the Board of Trustees and the Founder, and the General Manager here.

Now that we have a plan, I am asking for some help from anyone reading this blog. Just a little bit right now while we take small steps to success.

THE POULTRY RESTART PROJECT – We need to add 150 new chicks and a little equipment to our poultry operations here to make them self-sustaining. After that the poultry farm will make a little bit of profit, but also be able to feed people here and in Katutura with fresh eggs (including me!) and selling chickens for meat twice a year. Once we get this going, it will cycle, be sustainable, and will no longer require financial help.

Can you please help out the women of Penduka by helping us fund this poultry restart project? It’s not much money, and you can donate through the U.S. Peace Corps Web site https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate, select “PROJECTS AND FUNDS“ in the middle of the page, and search me out by name, or by country (Namibia). The direct link to my project is https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/project/village-egg-farm-restart/#amount-form.  We don’t get the money until the amount requested from donors (hopefully you!) is raised, which is only $488.89 in US Dollars, so be generous if you can. The Penduka community is supplying $245.19 (33.4%) of the total amount of $734.08 needed. This is N$9,910 Namibian Dollars – a LOT of money in Namibia!

We need to buy and start raising the chicks very quickly to catch the seasons right, and to replace the aging hens that are currently laying. Their egg production rate is dropping, and new chicks don’t start laying for at least six weeks after we get them.

100% of this goes directly to the project, and 100% of the profits of Penduka goes to the women who work here. NOTHING is paid to the Board of Trustees (they are all Namibian, active, and unpaid volunteers), and the Board owns 100% of Penduka. It is corruption free. I am very, very lucky to have this unusual assignment in Namibia.

So please – visit https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/project/village-egg-farm-restart/#amount-form and contribute whatever you can. I promise I’ll post pictures of gobs of really cute little chicks peeping all over the place before we steal their eggs and eat them. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

More blogs soon. There is just so much to talk about.

Andy