020 Ahh, Vacation – and thoughts on Namibia

Posted on 15 August, 2016
Written on 14 August, 2016

I’ve peeled back one more layer on understanding a little bit of Namibia, and maybe a little more about myself. Monday of last week (1 Aug), I left for my first vacation since arriving here. Probably overdue, but for sure due. I was getting a little crabby.

First: the facts. (Impressions and thoughts will come after the itinerary.)

020_Trip_1-10 Aug 20106
All of Namibia with my 1-19 Aug 2016 trip marked in Yellow in the southwest corner.
020_Trip_1-10 Aug 2016_a
Only the South of Namibia, note route marked from Windhoek in yellow.

1 Aug: The rental car (a Toyota Corolla) was filled up with stuff and I took off (on the left side of the road) to visit the South in Namibia. Right away that was a little unusual. Most people, volunteers and Namibians alike, go to the North. Spent all day driving due South to Keepmanshoop, then West and stopped in Bethanie (ba – ta – ne) to visit a friend and fellow PCV. She’s been there almost a year, and I was her first visitor! You have to want to go there – it isn’t on the way to anything!
Link to Bethanie photos on the web: Bethanie Photos

Catherine at Betanie cafe
Catherine at a (the?) Bethanie cafe’.

2-3 Aug: Left Bethanie and drove to Luderitz on the coast, where I stayed two nights and one full day with another PCV friend, again, the first visitor he’d had. People do go to Luderitz for the Crayfish (lobster) Festival, but he’s only been there about two months. That is a BEAUTIFUL town! Reminds me of Sausalito. I also walked through Kohlmanskop, the “ghost town” that was a small but thriving Diamond Mining community until about 1944 when Diamond Mining operations moved to Oranjemund due to much larger gem quality diamonds being found there.
Link to Kohlmanskop photos on the web: Kohlmanskop Photos
Link to Luderitz photos on the web: Luderitz Photos

020_Keetmanshoop to Luderitz on B4
Bethanie to Luderitz on the B4. The road eventually bent a little bit, but not much!
020_In Luderitz
My last morning in Luderitz with Travis and Emma.

4 Aug: Left Luderitz and drove to Rosh Pinah, then had a permit to take the road to Oranjemund. It’s an 80 km drive, only ½ of it (the southern half) is paved. The first part is gravel/under construction. Oranjemund is a “closed town”, until recently completely owned and operated by Namdeb, the diamond mining company that is owned by Namibia and DeBeers. Literally the entire town was owned – and all housing, food, utilities, streets, etc. were provided by Namdeb to house employees free of charge to the employees (kind of a modern day Kohlmanskop – see above). It was recently given back to the Namibian government but is only now starting the transition to start being a self-sustaining town. More on this later. On the way out of Oranjemund, I came close to hitting a wild Ostrich running across the road with a couple of its friends. Also saw LOTS of Oryx wandering around within the city, and heard an Hyena “laughing” in town about 02:00 AM one morning. A jackal was running around one evening while I was touring the city. Wildlife is pretty common in Oranjemund!

020_Luderitz to Rosh Pinah
Luderitz via Aus, to Rosh Pinah on the C13. Look familiar (see photo above). I have DOZENS of this type of photo all at different places on the route.

5-8 Aug: In Oranjemund, meeting people and attending the Diamond Jubilee, a fund raising dinner for the Diamond Festival in November. Guest speaker with Former President of Namibia Hifikepunye Pohamba. Details on the Oranjemund visit below.
Link to Oranjemund photos on the web: Oranjemund Photos.

020_Name Dancers in Oranjemund
Nama dancers in Oranjemund at the road naming ceremony in honor of Former President Pohamba.
020_Mayor Coetzee, F. President Pohamba, Gov. Basson, Min. Tweya
L to R: Orangemund Mayor Coetzee, Former President of Namibia Pohamba, Governor of Karas region Basson, Minister of Communication Information and Technology Tweya, at the street naming ceremony.
020_Sunset at Oranjemund Beach
Sunset at Oranjemund beach. Note rough surf at the left on the Southern Atlantic.

8 Aug pm: Left Oranjemund in the afternoon and drove the 80 km back to Rosh Pinah, where I spent the night in a lodge.
Link to Rosh Pinah photos on the web: Rosh Pinah photos

020_Oranjemund to Rosh Pinah
Oranjemund to Rosh Pinah on the closed road – Sperrgebiet! (Restricted!)

9 Aug: Drove from Rosh Pinah to Hobas (Fish River Canyon) following ALL gravel roads that went along side the Fish River for quite a ways, then North.  Quickly visited Ais-Ais (Eye-Eyes), a Spa/Lodge/Resort that is quite modern and beautiful, and out of my price range! Plus it’s a luxury destination. Lots of hikers from Fish River Canyon end up there and happily pay for the showers, nice rooms, and restaurant because they are utterly exhausted from a five day trek. Hobas is the public entry point for Fish River Canyon overlooks and has only a camp site. I set up my tent and camped out that night.
Link to Hobas and Fish River Canyon photos on the web: Hobas and Fish River Canyon photos

020_Mountain Strata on C13 enroute to Ais-Ais
Mountain on C13 enroute to Fish River. Note strata clearly defined along the side.
Ais-Ais Spa/Resort
020_Camping in Hobas
Camping in Hobas by the Fish River Canyon
020_Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon

10 Aug: Left Hobas and drove all the way through to Windhoek. Several hours of nothing but gravel roads and desert, then a quick cut East on the B-4 back to Keetmanshoop and then North to Windhoek. Back at Penduka that night.

020_Keetmansshoop to Windhoek on B1_a
Keetmanshoop to Windhoek on B1.

I was originally planning to visit Sossusvlei on the coast north of Luderitz, but two extra days spent in Oranjemund means I couldn’t do the Sossusvlei portion of the trip without becoming frantic with travel. So I chose to stay in Oranjemund longer, but cut the number of leave days by one day and visit Sossusvlei on another trip.

All in all, 2,515 km of driving (1,560 miles) about 60-70% of which was on gravel roads. VERY tiring!

Impressions, thoughts, and miscellaneous musings along the way.

  1. Knowing some things just isn’t the same as having a visceral “feel” for the reality of it. Such is the case with the population density of Namibia.

The land area of Namibia is 823,290 sq km, population about 2.2 million (depending on where you look for information – it is not clearly defined). That’s 2.67 people per sq km.

For comparison, the land area of California in the USA is 403,466 sq km (less than ½ that of Namibia), population about 39 million. That’s 96.66 people per sq km.

How does this relate to my trip? The parts of South West Namibia I drove through reminded me a lot of the Southwest in the USA, but bigger and emptier. At one point on Tuesday, I drove over two hours on a gravel road in the middle of the desert without seeing another building, person, or even a vehicle going in either direction! It started to make me nervous – thinking about what would happen if the car broke down!

I drove through parts mostly of the Namib desert (next to the ocean) and the Escarpment (between the Namib and the Central Plateau), and a lot through the Central Plateau, which some some sources include in the Kalahari Desert.

  1. I’ve been hearing about how beautiful Namibia is, and finally got a sense of the truth of that statement. I haven’t been to the North, yet, or to many of the more spectacular tourist attractions (like Sossusvlei), but it is true that the part of the country I saw was absolutely stunning. Big, open and clean spaces. I happen to love the desert landscapes. And I also can see why Namibia is a Geologist’s dream! The bottom of the Fish River Canyon is 1.5 BILLION years old (similar to the Grand Canyon), and much of my trip was in mountainous area of layered strata turned up at an angle with the millions and billions of years exposed for all the world to see. I’ve included a few photos (above) taken from the car enroute to give you an idea of the limitless space and fascinating rock formations.
  1. Being in the Peace Corps, and mostly working to improve social situations, we tend to see only (at least mostly) the effects of lack of education on the ability of the people in this country to conceive of, and complete, projects of any complexity. I have a bit different view in Windhoek being the capital city, but still work mostly with the poor people in Katutura. My friend in Luderitz (and other PCVs I know) work with much more sophisticated business people. And when I was in Oranjemund I met and talked extensively with some very astute business and political leaders.

But for some reason, the combination of high technology with low tech subsistence living hit me most clearly while driving through hours and hours of flat, featureless landscape with occasional microwave telecommunications towers. VERY high tech in the middle of vast expanses with people that know how to get water from desert plants, but with no idea of how even a toaster operates. The juxtaposition was striking.

I find in my work here that two things live simultaneously in my awareness:

  • The most easily described difficulty is that many of the Namibian people seem to have difficulty grasping concepts – show them how to do something a,b,c – specifically – and they get it. But even simple arithmetic or mechanical connectivity seems beyond them. While that’s not fair as a generalization and doesn’t apply to everyone, it’s just often true particularly with the older generations, and the rural folks.
  • It is ALSO true that I consistently underestimate people here. With many things they are amazingly astute in social interactions and get the idea much better than I think they do. They simply think about it differently. I can’t give a good example unfortunately – it’s hard to put into words. But these folks have very good memories for things that happen around them, but don’t seem to remember from one moment to the next something you “teach” them in a class. It’s baffling except in that it has something to do with what they are used to historically.

Finally, and back in line with the original point, it is WAY too easy to try and describe “them” when they are as diverse as are people in the United States, or anywhere. Are there some things that seem to be common? Sure. But if you ask me “What is Namibia like?” I would have as much trouble describing it as you would to describe “What is the United States like?” if you compare the Ozark mountain people to the inner city slum dwellers to the kids in an elite University to the scientists at MIT. It’s just not that simple. I begin to see why re-integrating into the United States is said to be WAY harder for Returning Peace Corps Volunteers than integrating into the Host country at the beginning of service. It’s not simply described in terms that people have a background to understand. I struggle with that here, as do all PCVs. The few PCVs I know here that don’t adjust well to it are usually the ones that continue to apply our USA cultural expectations to living here It just doesn’t work that way.

  1. And here is something I knew, sort of, from being in Penduka/Windhoek. All Namibians aren’t black. About 6% are white, and about 6.5% mixed, and 87.5% black. But the white Namibians for some reason didn’t “really” seem like Namibians to me, until this trip. Again it became visceral not just something I “knew”.
  2. Oranjemund.

The town population is uncertain: something between 4,000 and 15,000 depending on who you talk to. Honestly, no one knows for sure. Namdeb (the diamond mining company that created and owns the town) has a count of the homes they own, but that doesn’t include temporary housing for transients or sheds for the disadvantaged, etc. The individuals I spoke to would all defend their position, but there is no consensus. In some ways, it doesn’t matter practically.

Oranjemund is just beginning the process of transforming itself from a completely owned and paid housing project by Namdeb for their employees, to becoming a real municipality that is self-sustaining. The legal and social, and economic, issues are HUGE! And fascinating. There is some chance I would be moved to Oranjemund by the Peace Corps when my time at Penduka is over, and I would welcome that.

Oranjemund is just over 100 years old, and until about a year or two ago was completely shut off – only access granted to Namdeb employees. When the road to Rosh Pinah is completely paved (sometime next year), the access point controls will probably be lifted and it will become a publicly available area. The Town Council and the Namibian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Oranjemund are striving to make that transition work. The implications are WAY too complex to get into in this blog, but I found it, and the people, to be fascinating and a marvelous career challenge. I’m sure there will be more on the topic of Oranjemund in future blogs.

  1. And here is one totally random bit – something I like about the prices and exchange rates here.

By and large, I try not to always compare prices here to the equivalent price in the USA at the current exchange rate – which is very advantageous to the USA. The price structure here, in Namibian Dollars, must be the determining factor when shopping for bargains and trying to save money.

HOWEVER, once in a while something “shows up” to demonstrate just how much the dollar difference helps when we look at US dollars to Namibian dollars. .

020_Meat Purchase
2 x Rib Eyes, 2 x T-Bones, 2 x Minute steaks, 10 x Bratwurst, 4 x Chicken Breasts, 4 x Port Belly Strips.

This photo is of some meat I purchased on Thursday from Hartleif, the largest Abbatoir (slaughter house) in Namibia. Total price, and this was from an expensive store, N$372.83, which is $27.78 USD. I LOVE this country! The steaks are very thick and wonderful, and all of the protein here is very high quality. Fortunately, I like a protein diet. My vegetarian friends are challenged here!

Yes, I know Red Meat is probably the biggest contributor to global warming – really it is – and I am very conscious of choices that affect that. But once in a while I splurge and don’t feel too badly about it. I’m very aware that we should do as much of it as we can to minimize that effect.

But the t-bones alone would have cost me more than that in the USA!

I’m going to stop here – this is long enough (probably too long) for one post. Still working to post more often and not as long, but it’s just my nature!

What do YOU want to know about? I’ll do what I can to shed some light on the questions you have. Just post a comment asking. And if you haven’t already done it. “Follow” the blog (lower right corner of your screen). All you get is an email that says I posted a new blog.

PS: A minor “(%&(*” I just added early the next morning before (hopefully) posting. I tried to post this yesterday, and literally spent four hours AFTER writing and getting photos together to try and just get it on the internet. Here at Penduka, particularly, internet is notoriously bad, slow, and undependable – whether using LAN network (connected via microwave to Penduka), or “NetMan” (a dongle-based 3G service). The emotional cost in “almost” getting there then losing everything because the internet just stops is huge  – I finally just give up and watch some brain-candy from my hard drive of entertainment. OK – ‘Nuff of that. I just needed to share!! This is, after all, part of what service is like in Namibia, at least for me.


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!


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
    019_Teberh at her cafe
    And lunch from there, Ethiopean style.
    019_Ethiopean Lunch
    And Teberh and Negusse’s family at home
    019_Taffa FamilyOh “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.
    019_Chia-Ying and Veronica
  • 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!
    019_Catherine & Yen
    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.
    019_Yen at bottle house

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!
019_Lilly and Jamie

  • 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!
    019_Herta - cold!
  • Meanwhile, Kids will be kids and are busy playing on (not in) the playhouse!
    019_Kids on 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!
    019_Group 43 swearing in
    While in Okahandja, I met a friend, Lonia, and her sister for pizza and ice cream.
    019_Laimi, Lonia and ADG

That’s it for today. More later – but I promise I won’t wait 4 months!


018_Sometimes, It Is Overwhelming

Post Title: 018_Sometimes, It Is Overwhelming
Written Date: 19 -20 March 2016
Posted Date: 20 March 2016

Somehow, that is the only title that is possible. Saturday evening of last week I was overwhelmed.  Again, last evening, my heart was so full I yearned for someone to talk to, to share with, so I wrote to my blog audience, reaching out to anyone who reads this.

Many (most?) Peace Corps Volunteers have moments where the effort and strangeness, and struggles, seem worthwhile. Some, however, get almost no sense of fulfillment while they are in service simply due to their site specifics. Unfortunately, some also can’t see the “good stuff” through the filter of the differing cultures, and things simply not going well – and there are a LOT of things that just don’t go well. In Namibia, right now, there are a lot of my group mates that have serious doubts if they are making any difference at all. The Peace Corps web site is full of stories from PCVs that only realize the impact they have many, many years later with a chance encounter, or a long term friendship. I’m fortunate here in that even though the difficulties are very present, occasionally days occur where it all seems so much more than just worthwhile. Yesterday was one of those days.

Saturday (yesterday – actually the last two weeks – more on that in a later blog) has left me swelling with an appreciation for this country, for the people I am getting to know,  and for the potential of humans that can scarcely be felt in its entirety, much less expressed. I am no writer, but I’ll do my best.

What appears below was written on Saturday night in a fog of emotional overwhelm. I’ve edited it a bit, and I recognize but don’t apologize for the raw emotional content. It may not be professional, or skillfully phrased, but it came from my state at the time – and I’m carefully retaining the feelings and memories to draw from when things aren’t as good. I’ll need them.

——————–(Below is from Saturday evening) ——————–

This morning I took the three women that run Penduka (actually two of them, plus Vistorina, a 30 year old woman who is standing in for Liina while Liina is on vacation) to a “farmer’s market/flea market” called the Green Market. It coincidentally celebrated its twelfth anniversary, today.  It has an interesting background that is held once a week on Saturdays, 08 :00-12:00 in Windhoek. (Google “Green Market Windhoek” for more information).

Penduka will start putting some of our artisan products at the market in two weeks. (The market is closed next week – Easter). It was amazing to see an ordinary thing like deciding to be at a local market being studied by Namibian women who are finding out they actually have some power in life over their own lives, and their welfare. They were very, very interested in the various booths, and surprised that one of the vendors, a white guy, vending compost (really good stuff) would GIVE them 10 kilos just because he wanted them to try it out, knowing that if Penduka ordered in bulk it would be a good sale. The women found they were an organization that others wanted to do business with and spoke with them as equals. That’s not true all the time, but it is available and is happening more often.

The woman who heads up the market, Inga (she started it 12 years ago), was very happy to spend as much time with them as they needed. Turns out (again) that Penduka was there 10 years ago- and only sold vegetables. Inga knows of Penduka and was very, very happy that we were considering returning. Penduka was not only welcomed into a limited space market, but was offered a BEAUTIFUL and large spot for our display. The women managers are entranced, and they will be successful I am sure.

018_Green Market, Inga with GM MgrsGreen Market spot 15

Riding back, they were talking about business – planning the displays, laughing at things happening at work, and comparing notes on how they could best improve production. Most of it was in Oshiwambo and I only caught a few words. They know that’s OK with me, and they shifted into English often when it was relevant.

I got back, and an hour later was picked up by a Namibian business associate, becoming a friend, and taken to a meeting of the Katutura Youth Group. “Youth” in Namibia is defined as 18-35 (really!) and when you get to know the country it makes sense. Most of the 20 or so people there (very mixed male/female) were 25-30, with a few outliers in either direction. In the USA kids of 18 are legally adults, and think they should be treated as such. If we encouraged 25 years olds to learn something more about themselves, by and large they would take offense at us assuming they were something less than full fledged knowledgeable adults. Here, the group started with a series of exercises designed to help them learn to speak up, and to have confidence in their questions. I could write pages about the three hours I spent there, two of which were spent with me talking about the United States, my life, and thoughts on what makes a person happy at my “pensioner” age of 66. And answering questions – dozens and dozens of them.

I was amazed at the high quality of the questions. I half expected questions about Hollywood glitz, being a pilot and some such. But their questions were (a few samples): “What do black people in America think about Africa?”, “How did you feel when you were 30 about your career choices?”, “Please tell me about your life as a father, where is your daughter’s mother, and why aren’t you married, now?”, and the final question was the only one about my acting work in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t anything like “did you meet or know <famous actor>”, it was “How did acting fit into a career full of engineering, business, and lots of other things? What did you learn from acting that was useful?”

One on of the most common themes was their amazement at the social/family structures in the USA. One of them simply could not imagine making a decision that was counter to what his parents recommended – and he was over 30. The family, and community, plays a much, much stronger role in the fabric of the society than it does in the USA. There are some really great aspects to that culturally, and (like everything) there is another face to that Janus. There are some drawbacks to the strong family affiliations that keep people, and the society, from moving forward – or even deciding what “forward” means. It precludes change to some degree.

These folks are very, very bright and anxious to play a part in life that will help Namibia. I was impressed, and I told them so. If they keep going, and DO something rather than waiting for it to happen, Namibia will be fine. Who knows, maybe in 200 years it will be another USA. Hmmm – that is simultaneously a wonderful and horrible thought. I uttered a phrase while I was answering questions that I’d never said before, but on retrospect it works really well for how I feel. “I am very proud of the effort and dedication it took for the people of the United States to get to where we are now. But I am not at all proud of the state the country is in at this moment.” Sure, I could write for days on this topic, as could most of you (from differing viewpoints), but that is a pretty good summary of where I am. I will say that the people at this meeting were universally very relieved and happy that I didn’t support Trump. (If the PC reads this, we did not prolong that discussion – no politics!) They are astounded, everyone I’ve met is, that we would even consider him. ‘nuff said.

One moment that will stick with me forever – no exaggeration – was very personal. At the very beginning of the program, the leader (my friend) asked everyone to go around the circle and say their name, what is their vision for themselves, and to tell us about the thing they had experienced that made them the most proud to be Namibian. After my two hours working with them, he went around the room again and asked them each to name one thing they had learned, today. Some of them drew from our conversations, and some from other things that happened in their meeting. One young woman said “Remember the question you asked at the beginning about being proud to be a Namibian? I need to change my answer. The single most important moment like that for me, in my life up to now, is him (pointing at me). His love and dedication to Namibia makes me very proud to be Namibian.”  Wow. Sometimes I feel like my entire life has been a prelude to this work, here. The group asked me to come back and participate with them anytime I wanted (remember, I’m 66, and this is a youth group!), and they hoped I came often. I will go often.

This story is about the incredible opportunities to share, to help willing and enthusiastic people learn how to do just a little bit better for themselves and for their society, not because I know how to do it better, but because I’m simply willing to share experiences, failures, and successes over a lifetime with them so they can make their own decisions in their own complicated and varied lives to come. And these are “kids” from Katutura, one of the poorest areas in Namibia.

I found myself wishing my daughter had been at the youth group meeting – I know she would have enjoyed the company of the young people, and I think she would have been proud of (and maybe a little surprised at) her dad. I don’t mean this as a point of pride for me – it just wouldn’t have been that well received if I hadn’t felt truly humbled and flawed, and at the same time recognizing that 66 years does (can) provide a lifetime of experience that it is possible to pass on to someone. I wish I’d been able to do a better job of that with her than I could do at the time.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of the group. I may be able to get one when I go their meetings again.

One of my dearest friends/relatives has disagreed with me saying “people are the same”, claiming he/she doesn’t agree with that. In my opinion, this is not a disagreement, he/she is simply wrong. People express it differently, have different life experiences, have different values, have different LOTS of stuff, but fundamentally everyone in every culture I’ve ever worked with (and there are a lot) has been concerned for their choices, their families, and making the most of their lives. Not all of their conclusions are the same as mine, and many of their beliefs are very detrimental to MY way of life, but they are doing all they can to “get there” the ways they understand. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work, fight if necessary, to preserve our way of life. Some of my more hawkish friends hear my views as me being a flaming liberal, or a pacifist, or unrealistic, very naive about the world, or something equally unflattering They are wrong about me, but seldom ask what values I do live by or what I do believe.

My job, any Peace Corps Volunteer’s job, is to integrate into the community so that you can have meaningful conversations with people from another culture, and make your own experience and education available to them so they can improve themselves – not the way I think is best, but the ways they want to do it. We do, of course, hope to also open their minds to possibilities they may not even realize exist. It’s hard to make choices when your choices are very limited by your experience or conditions, or economic realities, or religion (a very significant force here). We can help to let them at least know about other ways of living, if they and their governments are willing for them to learn and grow. Some aren’t. If we can just offer that, and work to help them understand that the United States culture is not homogeneous, that not everyone lives the live of a Hollywood Star, and not everyone is homeless. Nor does the United States know best all of the time. The people here are astounded at the photos they see of homeless people in urban areas – they just don’t see how that could be possible. They need to be told that the very freedoms that make it possible to succeed make it possible to fail devastatingly. After encouraging them to DO something, to make a choice and commit to that choice not to just let it happen to them, I reminded them that there was no guarantee it would work out well. They were told about the point in my life when I was the CEO of my own company, and six months later was driving SuperShuttle in San Francisco to stay busy and earn at least a little bit of money.

I told them that I believe what works is to take whatever you have and decide to do what you can with it, as best as you can. They got it, at least for the moment. And I was (god forbid) accused of being “wise”, a left handed compliment when you are 66! I still, and often, feel inordinately inadequate. More now than before I got here. But I welcome the humility – I need it.

I got home feeling already so full of life and people I could hardly handle it, and was saying hello to my “family” here (they NOTICE when I’m gone, and it feels really nice when I return), when I remarked that more of the women here than usual were dressed in traditional outfits for dancing (these are cultural dances they do for some tour groups coming through Penduka). There was a BIG group of dancers tonight, and I watched this time. It was a terrific show. I simply could not stop smiling – these were my friends, and they were happy, actively and excitedly happy, to be dancing.

(I’m having a LOT of trouble uploading the Dancing video – internet here is really bad. Stay tuned and I’ll keep trying. This is a still. )


Shortly after I got back to my home after the dancing, out my front door a group of people were celebrating quietly but joyously. They clearly knew each other well – about 30 Namibians, almost all Oshiwambo. It was so nice, and sunset so beautiful, that I grabbed my camera and went outside offering to take their picture and send it to them. We ended up taking many pictures, and I was invited to dine with them at their braai (barbeque) celebrating the wedding party’s participation in a wedding (bride and groom hosted the party) three months earlier. I had a very traditional Oshiwambo dinner with absolutely delightful people. Lots of meats, Mopane worms, Mahangu bap, salad (small), Namibian spinach (including the obligatory sand) and South African Boerewors (sausages). One of the guests was a lecturer at UNAM (University of Namibia) in technology, and he and I are going to collaborate to bring his students to Penduka for Job Assist (intern) work improving the technologies here. I almost didn’t go out and introduce myself.

018_Elia and Rachel018_Braai for wedding party

Forrest Gump had it right – life is like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re going to get until you bite into it. (My apologies for undoubtedly misquoting it) Sounds maudlin if you want it to, but it’s true, and it’s wonderful. Cliff Osmond, my old acting teacher who unfortunately passed away about three years ago, said it best: “All of life, the good and the bad, all of it is there all the time all around you. It’s a matter of what you choose to pay attention to.” Rest in Peace Cliff – and thank you for that perspective.

Yes, there are days when I am so frustrated at my inability to “get through”, or to understand, that I feel completely inadequate, and I am occasionally despondent. But I never feel I’ve made a mistake coming here. Days like yesterday are woefully unavailable to many Peace Corps Volunteers during their service just due to the circumstances of their site or their own inabilities to experience what there is to pay attention to. I am very fortunate and very grateful – days like yesterday (and today, and tomorrow…) make it all worthwhile, even when they are not as much fun as today.

So I sit here typing away, will edit this in the morning (ed: yup, that’s now), and am looking forward to a night’s sleep with more peace and appreciation than I’ve felt in a long time.

It is interesting to realize that I am much closer to the end of my life than to the beginning, and I rejoice in feeling like I’m going to “go out” having felt really, really good about something I took on.


017_Chicks Arrived!

Post Title: 017_Chicks Arrived!
Written Date: 20 Feb 2016
Posted Date: 21 Feb 2016

Day-old chicks were finally delivered, today! (Actually 2 days old. They doubled their age while in shipping.)

In early December, the restart of the poultry program was funded with a total of US $ 488.89. The Penduka managers extend their thanks to everyone. Four of the contributors were my friends and family, but there was a fifth person I do not know that found the project and contributed a substantial amount of the total needed. Here are the highlights of the long-awaited delivery of chicks to replenish the poultry farm at Penduka.

After the project was funded, we ordered 150 day old layer chicks. There are three basic types of chickens, with many breeds. “Layers” are hens that are used only to lay eggs. Modern improvements in layers result in a planning number of 4 eggs/layer/week, and we were getting about 4.7 in November of last year. It is lower, now. “Broilers” are hens raised for meat. That’s the kind you buy in grocery stores in the chic ken section. “Roosters” are males, and can be used for meat also.

The specific breed that we ordered are “Lohman Red”, the breed we already have. When our poultry operation is operating on a rotating stock “sustainable” basis, we may start working with other breeds to see what works best here at Penduka. Our primary goal is to sell eggs. The meat is only the sensible economic and nutritional use of old layers in our business model.

The beginning of February we were notified that the chicks would be picked up by the distributor on Feb 19. This morning (Sat, Feb 20) the chicks and equipment were delivered! Some photos:

017_All chicks in the tent
All 153 chicks in their tent – home for the next 3-4 months.

Below, click on the image to see the caption. Right click and display to see a zoomed image.

Now we take care of them for 20 weeks until they start laying eggs, then we replace the existing layers: 132 remain as of today, out of the original amount of 150 chicks in October 2014.  They are beginning to show age and production of eggs is dropping. The existing layers will be used by our restaurant, and sold for meat to the community.

This was my first relatively significant (VERY small compared to things going on now!) project with Penduka, and it served as a valuable experience learning the business culture and how to get things done in Namibia. Here are some of the lessons I learned, mistakes I made, and good things that happened.

Disclaimer: OF COURSE all of what I say below does not apply to every individual. But these are widely recognized tendencies throughout Namibia, to both expats and Namibians, that are very recognizable to anyone working here.

Working with the people here:

The people are very anxious to learn and grow, and succeed.  They are very smart in what they know and what they are used to. They are a very good example of the difference between Education and Intelligence, and the role of personal drive and ambition as in any people, anywhere.

The lessons of culture started to become real to me with the Poultry Restart Program in ways that were meaningful, not just out of a book. I’m still (February 2016) learning about this every day. There is no better way to describe it that I can think of other than to say they just think differently, at a fundamental level, than people do in the cultures in the USA or the major economic countries in the European Union. The trick is to be open to that, and to understand what is going on. What seems like an arbitrary or thoughtless decision on their part, or something that flies in the face of logic, makes perfect sense (usually) when you understand what is going on in their mind. In all honesty, this is no different than working with different people within the United States, or in any culture.

In a training the other day, I hit on an example that made this clear to them in a way that really hit home – for them! I told them when I got here I had no idea how to make Marula oil. (The Marula tree nut is widely used for the oil, which is a nutrition filled fluid used often in cooking, and is also a cosmetic aid.) They had a really hard time believing this. It is so ingrained in their culture that the idea of someone NOT knowing how to do it simply wasn’t part of their reality. Then I asked them the average price of an apple if you had 2 apples that cost a total of $10. The concept of an “average” was beyond them, and they were VERY confused when we discussed one apple costing $4.00 and one costing $6.00, but the average was the same. These folks are very immediate and see a specific thing that is in front of them. “Abstract” reasoning is a very difficult thing for them. When we talked it over in training they  still didn’t get the idea of Averages, but they are least understood that to me, their lack of understanding averages was as weird as my not knowing how to make Marula Oil was to them!

By the way, they taught me how to make Marula oil since then. If you find yourself running short of Marula oil in the kitchen or vanity, let me know and I’ll tell you how to fix some up from the nuts on your back yard Marula tree. Just be prepared to do a LOT of pounding a heavy stick.


Doing business here:

It has become a “given”, at least to me and everyone I know of that lives or works here, that phone calls or emails won’t be returned on time, or at all. There are very happy exceptions, but they are by far the exception.

Appointments for a specific time are virtually meaningless unless the people involved are younger and work in an urban setting and even then arriving on time doesn’t happen often. Time simply doesn’t have the same meaning here, and I still don’t quite understand why but we have some theories. Maybe more on that in a future blog. I’m happy to say it doesn’t drive me crazy any more – it’s just “that way”. It is frustrating at times, but what is interesting is that it is ALSO frustrating to the people here! They are just used to it.

Personal Responsibility:

The idea of being personally responsible for what you agree to do is also not a commonly accepted thing. “Accountability” as a concept is equally strange and new. To the managers and staff here, they don’t resist it, but they just don’t get it!

The beginning of February we started a training program for the four senior managers and this topic is one of the first we are taking on both explicitly and implicitly in the training programs and the way the company is being structured. Wish us luck!


So – I have to stop here. By tomorrow I have to have (1) A proposal for well over NAD $100,000 to build a greenhouse for a new Aquaponics installation (more on that later, also), (2) A financial summary for 2015 including 2016 budgets so the Board of Trustees can hopefully approve a very modest salary increase for some of the staff, and the need to hire some new people, (3) A different proposal document with executive summary of Penduka for another project we are seeking to fund through a Namibian organization, here, (4) several smaller projects that must be completed by tomorrow to even be useful.

This is a VERY busy job, but it is part of today’s Africa. I love my job, but it is sometimes exhausting.

As always, please “FOLLOW” this blog. Button is on the lower right corner. It helps me know who is reading, and it is an encouragement for me to post a new blog.


016_A couple of days around Penduka

Post Title: 016_A couple of days around Penduka
Written Date: 10 Jan 2016
Posted Date: 14 Jan 2016

If you are willing, please “follow” these blogs (button on the lower right corner) and you get an email when I post a new blog. It is encouraging to me, and does some minor good with WordPress (hosting this site). And it’s OK if you don’t, of course. No ads or mailing lists will follow.

I had a really nice SKYPE with my family the day after Christmas (my time) when they had just finished Christmas Dinner in California. Delightful! It is so nice to be in touch with family. My understanding of what a family brings to life has been evolving the past several years, and especially noticeable (at least to me) in this part of life in Namibia. I’ve never been great about staying in touch – an old family tradition in my opinion. But I’m working to be better at it. A lot of the reason for that is realizing how much people can mean to each other, and special ones (family) have a place in the heart that is hard to describe.This place is changing me.

Family is a mixed bag, of course. There are “not so fun” parts as well as the “really great” parts. But the overall experience is – well – one I’m glad to have started to understand and take part in as I grow older. I wish I’d been able to express it more fully over the years to my own family, and daughter, and to people I care so much about. There are some people I really would like to hear from, it’s lonely over here. But it doesn’t impact how I feel about them.

I miss people, but I – honestly – don’t miss being in the USA at all. Sure it helps that I have a nice place to live, but as much as I love Sausalito (it is more of a home than I’ve felt since I left Dallas as a 17 year old kid) I like being here, wherever “here” is. I guess that’s just in my blood.

This blog is about photographs and people – drawn from two not particularly important days in the last month or so. Just so you’ll get a flavor of who I work with here, and what they are like. It is indicative of life here at Penduka, but not “typical”. It’s just a shot in time – not a complete picture.

Since there are an increasing number of photos, I feel obligated to point out the obvious – I am NOT a professional photographer! And unfortunately one of the key aspects of the technical skills is that the black skin of most of the people here simply doesn’t show up as well in photographs, even with “fill in” flash. I’m working on it, so forgive my inability in some cases to properly show the expressions that make good personal photos. Especially Kauna. You’ll see more, and better, pictures of her as I blog.

17 Dec 2015: The Christmas Party for the staff.

Most of the 33 people of Penduka went on holiday Dec 18 for at least two weeks, so on Dec 17 we had a lunch/party.

 016_Dinner Group 1016_Dinner Group 2


One of my favorite people in my entire life is Kauna – the “new” General Manager of Penduka. I work very closely with her trying to make available whatever experience and skills would be useful to her as she struggles to bring a Namibian style order to the chaos of Penduka. It is a very, very tough job. This is the first time Penduka has a Namibian General Manager promoted from within. She is invariably upbeat, and very capable. She simply lacks the experiences and training that most of us from other cultures have along the way. She is already a very good friend, is a valued colleague, and I value her and our professional relationship, and respect her, more than I can describe here. You’ll hear more about her, and the Penduka structure, in following blogs. Christofine is at the bottom of the picture. She is totally deaf and works in the sewing department.

 016_Kauna &amp; Christofine


Just before lunch, finishing a large customer order – pretty much everybody from every department around the table installing drawstrings in Penduka produced bags for a Safari company here.  It was an amazing “team” experience for everyone. This group is starting to pull together.

016_Women installing drawstrings

Lots of laughter and jokes – wish I spoke better Oshikwanyama, or Afrikaans, or Herero, or Oshindonga, or NSL (Namibian Sign Language). My German actually helps a little bit (not in this room, but around Namibia).  This is Leena (not the same as Liina) just after telling a joke I didn’t understand at all! She works at the Namibia Craft Center in Windhoek downtown, selling Penduka items to tourists. She’s probably going to start working back at the Village soon.

016_Leena after joke

And below, Just after lunch, checking out the sales ads: From Left, clockwise: Elizabeth, Leena, Diina, Sofia, Kahaka, Helena (on this side of the table).

016_Checking out the sales

Kambalantu with Grace (not his daughter). Grace and all of the kids that show up here regularly are a great example of raising children by a village. The kids are taken care of and loved by whomever happens to be near them. Including me!

016_Kambalantu &amp; Grace

Kambalantu I’ve mentioned before. He was a freedom fighter (literally a revolutionary!) in the war for independence from South Africa that resulted in independence in 1990. Doesn’t look like a guy that carried an AK-47 supplied by Castro for 14 years, does he? He is a GREAT guy – and the driver here at Penduka. Consider for a moment our “forefathers” in the USA. Same deal if you were living in 1800. A neighbor and friend.

David (below with some grey/white haired guy) is the supervisor of the guards, takes care of the poultry farm and garden, grounds maintenance (mowing, etc.) and maintenance on site. Very hard working, and works as a part time policeman for Katutura on the rare evening he isn’t fixing up Penduka.

016_David and me

The four guys (all the males except me!) – Top Clockwise: Leonard, Kambalantu, David, Fillipus

016_Leonard Kambalantu David Filippus (Top CW)

And now something I don’t get AT ALL! It’s a common thing here to have dry red wine with Coke. Go figure. They say it makes the red wine sweeter. Yes, I tried it. If I can eat mopane worms, I can try this. I prefer mopane worms.

016_Liina David Coke &amp; Wine!!!!

And, of course, with only minimal alcohol and no music at all: Dancing! This is Rebekka – stone deaf since birth. Who needs music to celebrate?


Below: Hilini (Grace’s mom), Jenny and Kauna. Still no music.

016_Dancing 2

Victoria, and Kauna’s daughter, Selma. (Hilini in the background). Aw, who needs music, anyway, when you’re among friends?

016_Dancing 1

23 Dec 2015: The impromptu PCV Christmas Dinner for our unfortunate colleague from Zambia.

Just before Christmas, I had to go into town to get a Peace Corps Volunteer from Zambia that was robbed of passport, money, phone, everything. She was not hurt at all, fortunately. I put her up at my home for a few days until the Peace Corps could get her back on her feet so she could finish her vacation. This is Christine (“Teen”) just before we started dinner.


Teen tells me there are about 300 PCVs in Zambia, and they are ALL in very remote areas! Zambia is only slightly larger than Namibia, but it has 15 million people (Namibia has 2.3 million if you use a generous estimate). The Zambian projects are Education (that’s what Teen does), Agriculture and Fish Farming (raising fish for protein). As a reference the Namibia projects are CED (that’s me, Community and Economic Development), Education and Health. And we have about 140 PCVs in Namibia.

The taxi driver that day was David (PCVs world wide are not permitted to drive at all) – I’m getting to know him, and a few other drivers, pretty well. Somebody remind me to write about taxis here – it is a VERY different “system” than the USA. David owns a farm with a lot of “cattles” (that’s their word for what we call cattle) in his farm with his family in Northern Namibia. His cattles are dying, literally, because they have nothing to eat. The drought is devastating life for a lot of people here.

016_David Taxi

That evening, a bunch of PCVs from Namibia who were in town got together with Teen (Zambia) so she would have at least an impromptu Christmas dinner. On the Penduka patio, from left clockwise: Cristal, Donna, Christine (“Teen”, Zambia), Mariah, Daviun, Gail.

016_Impromptu PCV Dinner before XMas

A little earlier, there was a beautiful rainbow over the eastern part of the reservoir (picture doesn’t do it justice).


And a little after dinner started: Sunset. Just a normal one for Africa.


Yes, I love it here. And I miss you all. Please write or comment. As wonderful as it is at times, it is a LOT of work, and it gets lonely, socially.

Love to you all,



I’m watching an episode of “The Newsroom” relaxing after spending a few hours putting this blog entry together. Yup, that’s how long it takes, at a minimum. At least for me. How I wish I could write like Aaron Sorkin! Sigh.