Written: 30 October 2016
Posted: 30 October 2016
I have realized recently that probably the greatest single reason I don’t post more entries is that there is always SO much to say! I’m afraid to get started because I want to include it all, and it’s overwhelming.
I don’t seem to be the personality that wants to write, to “put it out there”, as a requirement of my existence. So, even with so much good to say and so many reasonable thoughts, I don’t write at all.
The experiences I have here in Africa, and in the Peace Corps, while not earthshaking in importance, need to be shared with those of you who aren’t in a foreign country trying to establish a life while trying to make a little bit of positive difference with the people I live with. I’m sorry I don’t share more. I spend hours in deep thought about what is happening here – to the people of Namibia, to me, and to my colleagues here.
My normal reaction is to apologize for having the audacity (hubris?) to assume what I say is worth paying attention to. Or to apologize for not writing more. Hmmm – where is the point, exactly where I don’t have to apologize for anything on either side? Probably doesn’t exist.
Peace Corps life, for me here in Penduka, is unique. But then every Peace Corps assignment is unique. Currently there are about 160 PCVs in Namibia. There were 31 people in my group. Seven of us terminated service early for a variety of reasons, and there are 24 of us left scattered around Namibia. My group arrived here in April 2015 – about 19 months ago out of a 26 month commitment. And we have recently started to talk about our COS conference – “Completion Of Service” – the time we all get together just before our commitment is over in June 2017. How could it have been so long? It literally seems like I got here a few weeks ago. I already know I am extending if the PC permits it, and a number of my group are also considering it.
The latest significant event in my service was this afternoon. It isn’t unusual to have one or two events per day that could easily stick in memory, or that provokes serious thought. What’s different is that I’m going to write about this one – just this one, and get something posted.
This afternoon (a Sunday), one of the women that works here (Emily) asked me in very broken English if I could talk with her daughter (Eva) who is trying to find a job. Eva is a beautiful and seemingly very smart 25 year old woman with a three year old son and a University Degree in Human Resources Management that she completed in late September, 2016 – one month ago. Emily is a very poor, underprivileged, woman that works in the sewing department. Chances are she lives in a shed made from zinc roof panels hammered together to form a shelter with rugs or sheets hanging from the walls and ceiling to make it a little less “metal” and perhaps to protect from some of the heat. Most of the women here live in this type of shack with a rug over dirt floors, no electricity, no sewage facilities other than a neighborhood outhouse, and no running water other than a community spigot that serves multiple families. And they raise their families. And they, and their families, are very good people.
Somehow this woman, from conditions of poverty, has encouraged her daughter and made it possible for her to graduate from university. My understanding of these people is so inadequate, and my respect for them is so high. I wish I had words to describe the humility I learn daily in my work here.
Eva speaks very good English, is clearly thoughtful, and very easy to talk to. She contacted me, among others, just to talk and see if I can help her find a job. She was self-confident without being brash, respectful without being supplicating, and I so desperately want to help her if I can.
For me, the fundamentally most difficult part of Peace Corps service is the inability to do anything about so much. And I have it much better here at Penduka than many PCVs do. I can, and do, celebrate getting a solar power installation here that will likely save them over N$10,000 per month, having a role in getting grants from the Khomas Region Governor that made it possible to build a shade net greenhouse, buy 20 new tables for the restaurant, recover/re-varnish 25 chairs in the restaurant, put running water and electricity in the Aquaponics garden, and in fact getting the Aquaponics garden donated by the Finnish Embassy almost a year ago. Also, with your help, getting a small grant to start the poultry/egg farm. (It is doing very, very well – I’ll send a full report on it soon.) And there are many examples of success here that I cherish. I do know I’m making some difference. The things I list in this paragraph are in my skills set – getting things, getting money, grant requests, networking, business analysis – that kind of “stuff”.
It is so much harder to effect a change in the people, to help them find the “spark” that will allow them to keep moving forward when we go. How do I facilitate a cultural shift that will celebrate their learning the power of being pro-active, of mobilizing themselves and their community to accomplish something that helps them all, to expand their world outside of what they know now? “The mission of Penduka is to help empower women and their communities to improve their own lives.” Daily, I live with the fear that when I do leave Penduka, months or years from now, things will slip back the same as they have for decades before me. Of course there will be some of that, but it MUST get, and STAY, a little better or the women here will continue to slip backwards as they have in the past.
Unemployment here is over 35%, some say over 40%. The income disparity rich to poor is one of the worse in the world. And a young woman is reaching out for help. There is so much that sometimes overwhelms me with the desperation of not knowing what to do to help the person, or even worse knowing there is nothing I can do about some things.