Post Title: 019_I’m BAAAAAACK!
Written Date: 3 July 2016
Posted Date: 3 July 2016
OK – I’m really sorry it’s been so long since I posted, almost four months! Several of you contacted me to make sure everything is OK – thank you for that. Things are more than fine. Sometimes difficult, always interesting (well, most of the time), but I still love what I’m doing and where I am. I do seem to switch between being extraordinarily busy at probably the hardest job I’ve ever had, and being exhausted and unable to do anything but zone out or go to bed. Thus – no blogs. I am lousy at it – sorry.
I think this posting will be kind of a hodge-podge of impressions, notable events, and random thoughts. I’ll try to keep it relatively focused – you be the judge.(Went back and added this afterword – I failed. Pretty unfocused! But at least you’ll know I’m alive!)
The Half Way point
Last week I was with the rest of my Group 41 for “Mid Service Connections”. It marks the half way point for our two year commitment to Peace Corps service. A couple days of technical sessions and a couple days of medical checkins and dental examinations.
It is astounding that we are more than one year into the on-site work! For me it has flown by. When my group started going back to sites all over Namibia on Friday, I was sad to know that I wouldn’t see many of them for about 9-10 months when we had our COS (Close Of Service) conference. I also felt tinges of sadness from having to say goodbye to them – I am virtually certain I am going to extend my stay here with the Peace Corps. Celebrating successful completion of a two-year service commitment in a year and then saying goodbye to almost all of them (a few more may extend) makes me sad WAY ahead of time! If things continue to go well I may stay in Namibia for many years. If it doesn’t work out that way, I am likely to apply for consecutive Peace Corps Volunteer tours in other countries. I miss my friends (most of those reading), but other than that I feel no desire to return to the USA.
Back to the USA – briefly!
Having said that – I am now planning a trip to the USA in early August to attend the graduation of my daughter from U.S. Coast Guard Basic Training. It will be brief – only about a week – but what a very special occasion! Can’t wait to see her, and a few of you readers. I won’t stray far from the NE Coast because of time and money. But I’ll update this blog when I am more specific, and certain.
Goal 3 – Share the Namibian Culture with the USA
While I’m there, I would really enjoy being able to speak to any interested groups about Namibia and the Peace Corps. I’ll be around the Washington D.C. and New Jersey areas. Please let me know if you know of any potential speaking opportunities. There would be “slides” (computer), anecdotes, etc.
Since I’m on that point – why not a little more (added to precious little so far in this service) about what Namibia is like? I’ll restrict comments to mostly culture because I have been almost nowhere geographically within Namibia since I got here. My site (Penduka Trust, Goreangab Reservoir, Windhoek) is extremely demanding if I attempt to be of genuine use here, and I haven’t taken ANY leave up until now, much less seen much of Namibia the Beautiful – which I keep hearing from my friends that have travelled.
Namibia has a few characteristics that make it very challenging not only for visitors like myself, but for the Namibia people as well.
- Languages: I’ve written a separate blog about Languages (#010 – July 2015) but I’ll just repeat here that Namibia has a globally unusual number of languages – more than 17 “indigenous” languages and preobably at least a dozen more significant dialects. Even the native Namibians find it difficult. It does, however, result in a culture of being patient and understanding in conversations. I used to feel terrible about having to ask someone to repeat something on the phone, or in person. EVERYBODY does that! It’s kind of a relief in a way.
- Racism: It is very alive and well in Namibia. In the USA we have White, Black, Brown, “Yellow” and other unflattering categorizations. But here the shades of black, the tribes of black origin, and certain national origins are most definitely the cause of unfortunate racism in many places. I have Peace Corps colleagues that report on literally weekly physical fights in government and business offices based on nothing more than tribal origins. Nama vs.Wambo, Damara vs. Herero, whatever. (Those are not specific targets – just examples).Here in Windhoek we are not affected by it nearly as much as in more remote areas of Namibia, or in the North even though it is the second most populated area of Namibia. Windhoek is a truly international city, but the “large” population of roughly 340,000 people (no good common figure) is pretty small by city size standards . Nonetheless, I routinely meet people from most European countries, many African countries, North and South American, and many different countries in Asia (they are usually referred to as “Chinese” by the Namibians).
It is interesting that here (Namibia) discussions of group characteristics are an easy topic of conversation, and not necessarily derogatory. For instance, they can say things like “The _________ just work harder than other tribes.”, or “__________’s just quarrel with everybody and sit around and drink.”, or similar things. In the USA, such talk is pretty much uncomfortable for most people that try to be inclusive. Here, it surprises almost anyone to know it seems odd to me to make those kind of generalizations – even odd to the people being spoken about. In one case, I asked a Namibian friend how he felt about the kind of things people were discussing about generalizing his tribe. He looked like it was an unexpected question – and said something like”Huh? It’s no problem. There is some truth to it, and also sometimes it isn’t true, but it’s just a discussion.” THAT seems odd to me.
- Acceptance: Point being, ACCEPTANCE is a much bigger thing here than it is in any culture I’ve been part of before. That has positive and detrimental affects in my point of view.
- Positive – the people here are simply more accepting of differences than what I’m used to being around. They thrive on relationships and community, and have a rather astounding ability to simply “BE” with other folks. Of course there are personalities complicating that generalization, but it is not at all unusual to see a lot of people simply sitting together and talking sometimes, otherwise just being there. It has become comforting to a person used to evaluating everything. They just take it as it comes, and I’m only beginning to get some appreciation of why that might be. Unfortunately I think much of it comes from being powerless to do anything about it. Under apartheid it was very dangerous to even consider doing anything but accept it. Now, I had one taxi driver tell me he was OK even with the incredible rash of thefts and dangers he had been subjected to in the past six months. When I asked him why, he shrugged and said it could be bothersome, but he learned a LONG time ago that he simply couldn’t do anything about it. At his income level there was no reasonable legal recourse, that he couldn’t depend on the limited police force (not to mention potential corruption) to help, he had no money to fight it anyway, and proof would be very difficult to come up with, so – he just accepted it and moved on. Crime is a very, very serious problem – especially here in Windhoek – and poverty is everywhere. But the people are some of the most positive and friendly people I’ve ever encountered. It is remarkable.
- Detrimental – in that the kind of drive to accomplish, to improve, and to complete that is so rampant in my culture (to the point that I find it kind of irritating often) is not here as much for sure, sometimes not at all. There is a tendency to just want to show up and do the same thing that happened yesterday. I often say that the inadequate, but only, explanation that feels understandable is that the linkage between cause and effect is simply not there. I’m not sure why, and won’t speculate too much here, but will remain trying to focus on observable effects. It is HARD to think a different way – for anyone. If you don’t have a sense of what benefit would accrue from a change, it’s really hard to come up with the reasons to do the work. Especially when the current situation is accepted as just a part of life. Being ambitious always has its disappointments, and overcoming those disappointments can be overwhelming without any positive reinforcement. It’s just easier to keep going the way it is – to accept it – rather than to try and change it. It is tied to a “Namibian universal” (as far as I can see) “truth” that family relationships are extraordinarily important. Many current writers about Namibia from my research over the months feel that the desire not to go against the traditional/family roots is one of the things that holds back Africans as a whole. For sure it is true in Namibia. Interestingly, Christianity seems to be a commonality that is finally allowing women to expand outside of the traditional roles they have accepted in the family, and in gender treatment. Christianity provides a basis for women outside of the home that permits them to start existing outside of the home expectations.
- ENDING THIS SEGMENT – so I am predictably veering off into long winded discussions that may still be somewhat interesting to those of you who like to peer at navels – particularly your own. But I’m going to break this off and move on to something a little more observable and probably more interesting!
FUN STUFF and IMAGES
I find Namibia very fun – and I feel more and more a part of today’s Africa in enjoying it. Some of the more culturally adaptive events in the past few months include:
- Drinks one evening with a Namibian friend who has a Norwegian girlfriend. We went to “Roof of Africa”, a rather nice resort here in Windhoek with a usual evening hang out crowd that isn’t a drunk bar but a “Cheers” kind of place where everyone knows everyone’s name. I kept looking for Norm.Sorry, no pictures.
- Was planning on attending a Braai (BBQ) this afternoon with Teberh and Negusse, an Eritrean/Ethiopian couple I have known for several months. Teberh is my “source” for green coffee beans I roast myself, and she runs a café at the Green Market on Saturday mornings. Her daughter just graduated from some kind of medical training in South Africa and is here visiting before leaving for Med School in (I think) Philadelphia. Can’t wait to meet her, and to see Teberh and Negusse again.
This is Teberh at her coffee shop at the Green Market
And lunch from there, Ethiopean style.
And Teberh and Negusse’s family at home
Oh “Planning” in that I could never find a cab driver. I’m now over an hour late, and beginning to give up hope of getting there at all!
- Yesterday I was at Teberh’s coffee shop with Chai-Ying Lin, a Taiwanese student studying in Namibia for three months in Health/Pharmaceutical sourcing. She met a LOT of interesting people, including Veronica (background), a Philippino woman and her husband I’m getting to know here.
- One of the joys of Peace Corps service is having other volunteers stop by to spend a day or two enroute to other locations. Last weekend Catherine (left) and Yen(Right) spent the night on my fold out sofa and had a makeover on Sunday morning!
I felt like I was living in a Sorority. They are both a delight, and have become good friends. Here is Yen looking typically happy.
And Yen’s two travelling companions, Lilly and Jamie, who belong to Jatin a PCV who had to return to the USA for reasons outside of his control. It’s a pity, he was a good PCV and is a great person. We miss him. But he misses his cats and Yen is shipping them back to him!
- It’s been cold here, and the Namibians do NOT like the cold! This is Herta working at her sewing machine and I’m in my short sleeve polo shirt!
- Meanwhile, Kids will be kids and are busy playing on (not in) the playhouse!
- A Few weeks ago in Okahandja I got to see Group 43 swear in to start their two years of service. It is a heartwarming experience, and I’d gotten to know all of them from meeting them at the airport through their second week of training. Assuming I extend, I’ll be there when they complete their service!
While in Okahandja, I met a friend, Lonia, and her sister for pizza and ice cream.
That’s it for today. More later – but I promise I won’t wait 4 months!