027_Penduka through Leave in the USA

Written 7 October 2017
Published 7 October 2017

A lot has happened since April, and wrapping up my involvement in the Poultry Program at Penduka, which continues without me. (See the previous posting.) I may have said this before, but one of the reasons I don’t post more often is that I always think of posting as having to be complete – a whole story/narrative – and that takes time. And the story keeps getting longer every day. So it seems daunting before I begin, so I don’t, and don’t, and don’t, etc. I am beginning to have suspicions that I may not be a writer at heart!

There aren’t many images in this post. You’ll bump into them. But I hope words catch your attention. More photos in later blogs, I promise.

Apologies to all (as is becoming usual), and a sincere Thank You to my friends, family, and occasional other reader that all sent me a note asking for another post. I appreciate the prodding – really.

As you know if you’ve been to WITWIA before, I don’t tend to make my blog a travel log. I try to spend more time talking about the country, the people, the customs, and my inner experiences in Peace Corps service. Today will be a little bit of an exception because there is so much to catch up on. In many ways, what you see below is not necessarily common for Peace Corps Volunteers. But it is/was MY experience. And I can add it to the growing public library about what it’s like for a Peace Corps Volunteer. In my case, a 50+ (+++) “older” volunteer. But it’s different for everyone. If you are thinking about doing it – just do it. It will be more than worthwhile in a way that is meaningful to YOU. And there is no way you will be able to know what will happen before you just commit and show up in country. It’s worth it.

Part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is returning to the USA. And it is full of adjustments. The Peace Corps spends about a week getting returning volunteers ready to experience the readjustment, and it is time well spent. More on that week (COS – Completion of Service) in a later blog.

After getting the completed Poultry Program on sustainable chicken feet (early April, 2017), the Peace Corps in Namibia asked me and one other PCV to meet the new group of volunteers (Group 45) at the airport when they arrived in Namibia for the first time. That is SOOOOO much fun! There were 17 CED (Community and Economic Development) volunteers – the same program I am in. G45 was small compared to most because it was not combined with new Health volunteers. My group in April 2015 was 31 when we got in country (22 left standing when the group ended service in June 2017). But only 15(12 at COS) of us were CED, and the 16 (10 at COS) were Health volunteers.

Oone of the smart things the Peace Corps does is that when the new volunteers get on a bus right after arriving, there are only one or two other people on the bus that takes them from the airport to where they will be for the next couple of months of training.  Those “other people” are PCVs with experience in-country for a minimum of one year to be able to just talk and answer questions. I appreciated it a lot when I was new, and I love being able to do it for the new trainees. No one official, just PCVs like the trainees expect to be after a couple-three months of training.

Even more fun for me was when G45 was taken to Penduka for their first four days of service! What a unique opportunity. It never happened before, and probably won’t happen again only because of the group sizes. Having them at Penduka was close to (actually in) Windhoek and made it easier for Peace Corps Medical staff to travel back and forth. It also gave the “new guys” a chance to enter a different culture relatively gently.

A memorable event happened at the end of the second full day at Penduka. Peace Corps Namibia hosted a dinner at Penduka for the new Trainees, and we invited 10 personal friends of mine from the surrounding community. The Trainees got to meet “real” Namibians not associated with the Peace Corps, and just chat and have dinner. It went really well and both groups reported it to be a huge success! It is an evening I will always carry with me as a warm memory.

Within days after G45 left Penduka for Okahandja to continue their two months of training, I left for the USA on a four-week vacation gratis from the Peace Corps. Gratis was the economy class air fare part back and forth to San Francisco, my home of record, and the leave time. The rest was on my bank account. The extra leave is granted to any PCV who extends service for at least 13 months.

I spend most of the rest of this blog talking about that trip even though it was in the USA because what struck me so distinctly was experiencing the USA after spending over two years as a volunteer in a developing country.

After flying back to the USA, I visited (in order):

  • San Francisco, CA, where my daughter and my extended family met me at the airport! THAT was fun after having been gone just over two years. I only stayed one night, then….
  • Milwaukee, WI to visit some of my oldest friends, Roger and Kris.
  • LA/Woodland Hills, CA to visit Pat and Sharon, who go back almost as long as friends, but whom I unfortunately don’t get to see very often.
  • San Rafael, CA to stay with my Mother-Out-Law, Posie, for over two weeks and see my daughter, her mom and family, and LOTS of friends in and around Sausalito.
  • Bethesda, MD to stay with and see Steve and Bev in their new (to me) home. Again, very close friends for many years.
  • While in Bethesda, I took a jaunt down to Arlington, VA and spent a few hours with Carl and Pat, the ex-Peace Corps Country Director for Namibia. Carl was kind enough to drop me at Dulles to catch my flight back to Namibia via Johannesburg, South Africa.

I didn’t see everyone I wanted to, but managed to have a good balance of running around visiting people and relaxing, with some good time with my daughter which was of primary importance to me.

Just a few days after returning to Penduka from the USA, I left for Okahandja (about an hour drive north of Windhoek (Penduka), and spent about a week helping to train Group 45 in week seven of their nine-week training program.

Back to Penduka for about 10 days, and then I left Windhoek and flew to Oranjemund on 15 June, where I’ve been ever since!

Now, some perspectives on the various parts of the visit to the USA. Everything since late May after returning from the USA will have to wait for a future blog. Honest, I’ll try to get another post sooner than it has been.

Trip to the USA:

I tell people that I had three distinct impressions of my trip:

  1. Most people in the USA have absolutely no idea of how much we take for granted compared to many places in the world, especially to Namibia/Africa. It’s not a bad thing, but it affects our ability to even comprehend some things other cultures, particularly developing countries, deal with on a daily/hourly basis.
  2. I feel incredibly lucky to have been born in, and raised in, the United States. It is not as exceptional as many people think it is in all ways, but it does include many distinct advantages, all of them at a cost (not monetary) that many USA citizens are not aware of. All of the analysis aside, I’m very happy to be from the USA, and lucky, and thankful.
  3. I do not miss being in the USA at all. I miss my family and friends, and look forward to visits, perhaps to moving back one of these days – who knows? But living in the USA is a “been there done that” kind of thing for me.

More could, perhaps should, be said of any of the above. But I’m trying to keep this posting manageably readable at least in length. (Added after finishing – I failed!)

One thing I will comment on: I really like Namibia and may retire here although I hate the word “retire”. Let’s just say I may stay here. Someone asked me a while back why, of all the places I’ve visited or lived around the world, Namibia is my favorite? I replied that it isn’t that. The question of “favorite” in anything doesn’t work for me. I don’t do well with the “favorite” concept because it’s just not how I think about things. “This” is what it is, it doesn’t have to be compared to something else.

Through a combination of lots of luck, some personality characteristics, some decisions, and a generous amount of being willing to risk (which hasn’t always worked out well!), I’ve experienced much more of the world that the vast majority of people, but not nearly as much as many people. I do not feel the need to continuously look for the next experience – I have a lot of them. Nor am I looking (any more) for the “better” place or experience. I could spend the rest of my life – in fact could have spent my entire life – in that search and at this age still would not have touched a small part of the wonderful places, and people, in the world. I’m here, I’m 68, I like it here, and I’m fortunate enough to have a challenging project to keep me sufficiently stressed and enjoy occasional moments of feeling like I’m in the right place at the right time for me, and perhaps for some others if I’m lucky. I’m contributing what I can, insufficiently most of the time in my opinion.

If I can build a life here and continue to feel that way, that feels like success to me. Yes I’ll miss living next door to lifelong friends, but good friends tend to stick around and be available regardless of how long we are separated geographically. And I’m constantly making new acquaintances, and a very few of them, if we are lucky, eventually become friends. I seem to be missing the community gene that requires I put personal connections ahead of all else – something I’ve seen in abundance here in Namibia. This is a culture built around community.

I am content, very grateful, value my friends and acquaintances, accept the flaws I have that I know about, and look forward to tomorrow. Plus, being here still has a certain amount of feeling “exotic” to me – there are moments when I look up at the constellations of the southern hemisphere, or at a gemsbok (oryx) two meters from me grazing on the grass in my back yard (literally), or a jackal running away from me, at night, back into the Namib desert, or a flock (herd?) of ostrich(es?) running wild through the fields, or the people sitting around a conference table with me, and I think “I’m in friggin’ Africa!” Not too bad.

That’s why Namibia.

Now, back to the USA.

It turns out to have been a god send to spend the first few days in a suburb of Milwaukee with good friends. The area they live in is old and still has the “walk two blocks to the grocery store” feeling to it (which is also the reality in their home). Two blocks another direction is a good restaurant, two blocks the other direction is a nice open area/park, and the entire area – and their home – is not at all pretentious. It was a really helpful re-entry to the USA from Africa. The Peace Corps stresses to PCVs returning to the states that re-entering the USA is often more difficult than acclimating to the “foreign” country, in my case Namibia. And they are right.

I know Roger very well and getting back together with him is like putting on a well-worn and comfortable jacket – it just fits. I so appreciate his friendship. It was also great to spent a few days with Kris since we’ve never had that much time to just hang out, previously. In my book, she rapidly caught up with Roger and I now feel I have two very close friends even if we don’t communicate all that often when one or the other of us is wandering around the world. I did just write him a note, and look forward to his reply and to hopefully SKYPING with him soon.

From Milwaukee on to LAX, and UBERed to Woodland Hills to see Pat and Sharon. It was my first UBER experience. Which is the end of the notable aspects of that event. Except for the traffic up I 5 in LA. I had (thankfully) forgotten. In Namibia it is not uncommon to drive on an open highway at 150 km/hr and not see another vehicle on the OTHER side of the road for 10-20- sometimes 30 minutes at a time. This is a relatively big country, with a very small population. Good for vistas, bad for the economy.

Pat has been a friend since the early 90’s, but after I left LA, we lose touch for a year at a time or sometimes more. After our early years of friendship, he met Sharon – a wonderful woman, delightful to be around. I’d spent time with them a few years ago, and it seemed like I hadn’t been gone at all. This time was a little different. Pat and Sharon are very grounded people living in a very ungrounded geographic location. Pat is a musician/programmer/car enthusiast, and Sharon is a major executive/delightful wife/contributing singer to Pat on occasion. He took me for a Sunday morning drive in his relatively new Porsche which was really fun and a significant catharsis in his life, I think. But the environment actually got to me more than the winding roads through Topanga Canyon. The opulence, emphasis on image with the people we … “saw” is insufficient, it is more like “experienced” … at a really nice brunch on the PCH, and the sheer visibility of MONEY, was beyond jarring to me after living in Katutura for two years in the surroundings of absolute poverty. I literally started to feel nauseous, not with judgement but with environmental shock. To this day, I feel badly about asking him to take the slow route home – but he graciously endured the I-5 traffic (really bad) in a high performance car just for my comfort. Disappointing to him I’m sure, but as is typical for Pat, he didn’t show it. Sorry, my friend. You’d have to spent a few months here to really understand, I’m afraid. At any rate, he said he got a charge out of making an ex-fighter pilot motion sick. I’ll accept that.

Back to San Rafael/Sausalito and living in Posie’s home for a while experiencing family and the old neighborhoods. During that time, I never got tired of being “there”, but relatively quickly started missing being “here” (in Namibia). It was odd. Everything was strangely familiar but otherworldly, but I still was in touch with the sense of knowing the streets, environments, and businesses so well from having lived here so many years.

I’m not going to comment on the family experiences and personal feelings but the time there was great – particularly the time with my daughter. She made a point to be available for some full days, and I so much appreciate(d) that. Thank you.

One event was really fun – we eventually got about 12 friends together at Posie’s house and I showed them some photos of Namibia and talked about Peace Corps, Africa, cultural experiences (and snakes) for a few hours. All part of personal enjoyment in getting to see old friends. As an added bonus, it was also fulfillment of Goal 3 in the Peace Corps: “To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” It was really nice to see everyone, and I’ve been very badly behaved in not following up with more personal communications to you all after the fact. I’m intent on changing that over the next few days now that this blog has gotten me back on the keyboard.

Also notable was the evening my other family and I all saw “Hamilton” in San Francisco thanks to Dana’s longtime boyfriend, Robert, with whom I am fortunate to have an excellent relationship. Through perseverance and monitoring multiple computers at the same time months earlier, he managed to get six tickets, and was extraordinarily considerate in inviting me to join his new family and his son to see the production. It was sold out for months before – and I know why, now. I started out being underwhelmed, but within five minutes was caught up in it, and ended the performance with it being one of those experiences you never forget because it was so extraordinarily magnificent. Wow – thank you, Robert.

The family eventually took me to SFO to depart on yet another lengthy stay away from the USA, and I jetted off to Dulles to stay with Steve and Bev in Bethesda for about four days. I didn’t do much sightseeing – mostly hung out with them because they became extremely close and trusted friends over the course of a few years of living maybe 20 feet apart, both on boats, in Sausalito. They have a very special place in my heart and my life. While there, I also visited with Dan and his wife. Dan was a temporary Director of Programming and Training in Namibia Peace Corps, and circumstances caused us to get to know each other well. I hope to stay in touch with him over the years, and intend to follow up on making that possible.

Bev and Steve and I did a little bit of sightseeing, most notably to the larger location of the Air and Space Museum near Dulles – fascinating. It brought me back to my Air Force days when I was an active member of AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) and virtually lived for flying. I subscribed to, and actually read (!) Aviation Week, and led a truly focused life based on flying. My aircraft in the Air Force (F-4 Phantom II) was now a relic on display. Seeing it was one of the “feeling old” moments that increasingly pop up along side my new, fresh Peace Corps experiences.

F-4 at Smithsonian with ADG 2

The aviation period of my life changed – one of the “choices” referred to early in this tome. I still miss it, but not all that much. As I said, my life has been interesting and full of different experiences and I have a few, but not many, regrets.

A low key lunch visit in Arlington with Carl (the ex-Peace Corps Country Director for Namibia) and Pat ended up my trip to the USA. Becoming a friend of theirs has been a joy in my life. Unusual circumstances over the past couple of years created the opportunity for me to get to know him personally to a degree unusual for PCVs and Country Directors, and I will forever feel grateful for that opportunity. His warm and gracious support of PCVs around the world was a large part of what made that possible. He has been a gift and valuable resource to the Peace Corps, and continues to support the agency and the PCVs at every opportunity. And thanks for the ride to Dulles, Carl.

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Wow – much longer than I expected and woefully short of images. But the above is part of returning home, at least for a while, from a Peace Corps Volunteer’s perspective.

Next up in the blog (sooner than it has been) will be a description of working with a new group of volunteers in Namibia, and moving to Oranjemund with my new service. Then in later blogs, LOTS about Oranjemund.

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