029 – Reflections and Projections

Written:               30 March 2019
Posted:                    5 April 2019

I wrote this a week ago, and delayed because it (1) wasn’t finished, (2) had no pictures, (3) was “too introspective”, etc. But I’m putting it out there today because it’s at least there and I haven’t posted in WAY to long! It is all text, and my musings, but here it is.

On 15 April, I will have been in Namibia for four years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My last posting on this blog was in July 2018 and I sincerely apologize for taking so long to post, again. What usually stops me is that there is so much to say, it is daunting. The first part of this posting is kind of factual, and catching up. The last part is musing about Peace Corps Service, learning to live in Namibia, and other not-so-well-defined topics.

If you are a younger/ish potential volunteer, I’ll try to include some perspectives of interest, but I’m about 40+ years ahead of the average age of PCVs, and I don’t pretend to understand ‘yall well enough to predict how you will react to this country, or to service in the Peace Corps. Many/most of my PCV friends here, however, are early to mid-20s and they are getting along just fine and enjoying themselves, plus doing a LOT of good here. Google “Namibia Peace Corps Volunteers”, maybe add “blogs” to the search, and you can hear from them directly.

Particularly to the younger potential volunteers: I can offer some hard-earned experience. First and foremost, if you are interested in volunteering, but “just aren’t sure” – DO IT! There are downsides, as there are to anything. The two+ years in another country, learning to live with and communicate with people from a different culture will be one of the most valuable things you ever do. What you will gain is well worth the loss of income for two years. “Hands down”, no qualifications, volunteer. It won’t be perfect, but it will be exceptional and offer things not often available to you in life. I have never regretted it and I’ve been here twice as long as usual by extending twice – which is unusual.

If you are 50+ (which was almost twenty years ago for me!), I also encourage you to “just do it” (I’ve always hated Nike for taking that phrase into the “trite phrase” lexicon). I’ll spend most of this blog talking about you guys and girls – with some encouragement and some cautions. But the basic response is the same as for the younger set. Unless you have a specific reason for NOT volunteering, if you are intrigued but not quite sure – absolutely volunteer. There are, however, some qualifications to this advice for this age group. Not reasons not to do it, just advance notice of some of the things you will run into that the younger set usually don’t deal with (at least not as much).

For a perspective I come from, while I’ve not enjoyed every moment of my service, I have been happy, challenged, and busy every moment I was here. I have always felt it was the right thing to do, for me, and never once regretted it. I am even figuring out how to stay in Namibia and continue “volunteer” efforts when my Peace Corps service is over in mid-August after 52 months in Namibia. I am a “pensioner” (as they call it in Namibia), and being a PCV beats the hell out of living next to a golf course. If you relate at all to that comparison, I encourage pursuing your volunteer service. If you look forward to living next to a golf course or your personal equivalent of that, being a Peace Corps Volunteer probably isn’t the best choice for your next few years. Nothing wrong with it on either side, but it just ain’t the same thing. The PC tag line “The hardest job you’ll ever love” is not a joke, and is not trite. I’ve had some very demanding jobs in my life, but the work I’ve done here is one of the most challenging things I’ve done in a challenging life, and is clearly one that I love and would do again in a heartbeat.

My service, and my blog, is not a travelogue. Many/most younger volunteers, and a lot of older ones, treasure and take full advantage of at least being in Africa to travel, vacation, and experience lots of locations you may never get to see again. You won’t find photos of me jumping off a cliff into an African River (many of which are populated by crocodiles, hippos, and other unpleasant company – not recommended), but many of the PCV blog sites are full of that. And it is a valuable experience. I’ve just had the pleasure of traveling around the world much more than most, not as much as many, but I don’t need to continue looking for new things anymore. I learned a while back that I could easily spend the rest of my life going somewhere else, looking at something new, or seeking something better. Again, if that’s what floats your boat, go for it. Particularly if you are in your 20s. I did some of that, and wish I’d done more. But my life is about something different, now, as much as I still enjoy trying and experiencing new things.

I rarely take vacations here because I am vitally interested in the work I have been doing. For the first two years I was working with an established NGO (the oldest one in Namibia) called Penduka Trust. They help disadvantaged women earn a living. One of the distinct joys of those years was living in a totally unique home made of recycled beer bottles on the edge of a lake in a protected “bubble” that was beautiful, safe and comfortable in the middle of Katutura, one of the most poverty-stricken areas in Namibia. It is part of Windhoek (the latest city in, and the capital of, Namibia), and holds 2/3 of the population of Windhoek, most of the people living in shacks made of corrugated iron sheets with dirt floors and a single water faucet for 20+ families, and a single outdoor pit toilet for the same. Katutura is home to over 200,000 people. There is a lot of material in earlier blogs about Penduka.

The last two years I’ve been in Oranjemund on the far southern tip of Namibia next to the Atlantic Ocean and the mouth of the Orange River. My work here has been to create an NGO (OMD 2030) for the community that is now a Voluntary Association, a legal entity, to empower the citizens of the town to transform the town from a single-industry (mining) town literally owned by the mining company (Namdeb) to a diverse economy. Namdeb has declared mine closure planned for 2021, which removes the economic basis for the community. I haven’t figured out a quick way to describe the town, or my work, in a satisfying way so I’ll leave that to another blog. For now, I’ll just say I feel good about my work as being worthwhile. The NGO is now completely under Namibian management, AND it is funded for all of 2019 with a strategic plan to keep it funded at least through 2021. My project, OMD 2030, is establishing a firm record of actually implementing programs it works on (which is not that common here), and that is one reason we are getting funded reliably. We’re in the process of making some major web site changes, but you can visit http://www.omd2030.com for a taste of what we’re about.

Frankly I feel great about OMD 2030. Together with Sue Cooper, a Namibian imported from the U.K., who has lived in Oranjemund for many years, we created OMD 2030 literally from nothing just over a year ago. We used the excellent work by two consultants that had been working with Oranjemund for a couple of years to help guide us in the initial implementation and still stay in touch with one of them as she continues to work to help the town survive and prosper. Remembering that as an entity we are barely over one year old, check out our latest Newsletter  – written by Sue: The “i” – OMD 2030 Newsletter, March 2019.

If I leave after my PC service ends in mid-August, I am reasonably confident that OMD 2030 will continue for many years. I might stay on as a consultant/advisor in some capacity if I can do that without getting in the way of a new PCV to arrive here in June. We’ve been able to get three more PCVs to come to Oranjemund in June: one in Business for OMD 2030, one for the Town Council, one is Health for HIV/AIDS education and youth empowerment. We are also asking for one Peace Corps Volunteer as a teacher for the government primary school to arrive in October. Three of the Trainees arriving in Namibia in April (this month!) will land in Windhoek on Wednesday, 10 April – next week.

There is a reasonably good chance that I’ll stay in Namibia indefinitely after the Peace Corps. It isn’t that I just want to stay here, which some federal bureaucrats insist is my reasoning (it isn’t). There is a very specific and significant program I am passionate about bringing to reality – a National Museum to be located in Oranjemund. The museum, part of the National Museum of Namibia, will highlight the cultures of the //Kharas Region, and feature the artifacts from the shipwreck of the 1533 Portuguese trading vessel “Bom Jesus”. I want to write a blog just about that shipwreck, but if you are curious before I get to it, just Google “Bom Jesus” (that is BOM, not BORN) and you can see all kinds of information on this internationally famous wreck. You can go to The “Bom Jesus” – the age of exploration discovery. for a 20 min video. With a search for “Bom Jesus” on the internet, you can see all kinds of stuff, including National Geographic coverage. Working on a museum to feature that shipwreck and the culture of this region is what I want my life to be about for the next 3-5 years, in Namibia. We’ll see. It would, without exaggeration, change the economy of the //Kharas region, the southernmost part of Namibia and the poorest region in the country by being an internationally visible attraction to a part of the world that has been largely hidden because of restrictions that came with being the source of the vast majority of gem quality diamonds in the world. See The “Sperrgebiet” Tsau-/Khaeb National Park. I might write a blog about that, also.  We at OMD 2030 are applying to be able to run the concessions in the southern coastal area of this park, soon to be opened to the public for tourism. This is one of the ways OMD 2030 will finance itself, and ensure the economic turnaround for the area.

Now for a “tidbit” for the younger potential volunteers: There is a very active emphasis on volunteers staying in touch with each other and supporting each other while you are in-country. In the past three years, the Peace Corps Namibia headquarters (in Windhoek) has done a great job of making this a choice assignment. You’ll make lots of American friends and have some familiar culture to bolster your time here. More importantly, you will have the opportunity, and the encouragement, to make very good friends in the community. The majority of your reason for being here is cultural and personal. If you do nothing else other than help Namibians understand America better, and then help Americans understand Namibia better, you will have been successful. There are many opportunities to make a difference in specific development-typical ways such as projects, fundraising, training, etc. but your primary work is to make friends. Make sure you understand the three missions of the Peace Corps (see https://www.peacecorps.gov/about/). They mean it.

If there is one opportunity for improvement, in my opinion, it would be on helping you, as a volunteer, understand that your service here is about serving the Namibian people and draw your strength from what you produce in that arena. Often this should be quietly with no fanfare (in my opinion). Your projects here are about leaving something sustainable for Namibia, not about getting the headlines or photos of yourself and your American friends in the papers or blogs. There is an element of learning humility early in your careers that shouldn’t be overlooked. One of my favorite sayings is from Nelson Mandela, and I am certain this is a paraphrase: “A cow gives milk to the whole village but it does not make noise. But when a hen lays just one egg that can’t even feed one child it crows and makes noise that everyone can hear.” Don’t mistake your ability to get an article written about you, or to receive very justified and necessary acknowledgment from others, or getting together with your American friends for a touch of the familiar, with making a sustainable difference to your community and integrating with, and learning from, another culture. ‘Nuff said. Everyone’s experience is different.

From this point on, I’m writing this just before publishing it. The rest was written a week ago.

I’ll try to make the next post more informative about Namibia and the work here in Oranjemund. Like a lot of people, I dream of writing – but the reality of writing just doesn’t seem to be a discipline I’ve been successful in developing. So I won’t make a promise – but the experiences I’ve had here are extraordinary.

Finally, I’m reaching out for support if not from you, directly, then for a referral to someone who can help. There are many, many projects that OMD 2030 is actively pursuing, but carefully, to make sure we can succeed at whatever we take on. (See page 8 of the newsletter for an idea of what’s up.) These cost money – not a lot usually – but some. If you are interested in helping out the people of Namibia financially and being assured your money will be used wisely, please let me know via direct email, through this blog, or however you would like. Do NOT send money yet – I need to make sure you are approached with a vehicle for contributing that is completely safe for you and for us, and (at least until August) in accordance with Peace Corps regulations. OMD 2030 is almost entirely unique in this country, indeed in a lot of countries, in that as an NGO we have audited financial statements by a Chartered Accountant (equivalent to a CPA in the USA) for our first year of operation. That has been in the plan from the beginning and demonstrates professional, transparent, and accountable financial operations.

If the “Shipwreck Museum” project gets going (I’ll have a better feel for that after some meetings in the capital city, Windhoek, in late April), there will be a need for finding a sponsor for my staying in Namibia to work on it because the Peace Corps here in Namibia has a policy of not extending anyone after three years. The fact that I’ve been here four, already, is an exception based on the work done here to date. But the Peace Corps will be in the past after August. All I need is a place to live, food, medical care, and basic transportation – no salary. It’s not much, less than USD $2,000/month for a year or two, then the project will be self-sustaining. Please let me know if you would like to discuss being able to support a part of this project in that way. We can make sure your help is transparently and accountably well used with regular reporting.

This blog doesn’t have a huge audience, but it is a caring one. Many of you have already demonstrated that with past fundraising projects I’ve run through the Peace Corps.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve contributed in the past, I appreciate you caring about the work here in simply reading this blog. At this stage in my life, I’ve found purpose and meaning and it does my heart good to know you, as readers, care about others that deserve help in parts of the word you may have never visited.

All my best.

Andy