040 – There’s just so much…

29 May 2021

Preface: This writing, and most of my posts nowadays, are pretty introspective and not focused. I warned you I am using this post as a way to get used to writing and staying in touch with friends. More skill in focusing, and focus, will evolve but this blog must serve my purposes primarily – and I’m honestly not looking to get thousands of followers and “monetize” the effort. More power to those who do that, and I learn a lot from what they have to say. But I’m marching to the beat of my own drummer, and this is the cadence that is driving me.

As usual, I woke up this morning and within the first 30 min was simultaneously energized and despondent. Going through my checklist of routines – trying to make the most of my life – I once again realized how much really cool stuff there is to be interested in! Riding along in the same coach with that thought, however, was the realization of how much I missed by not being aware of so many things until late in life. THAT, of course, is a road to nowhere good. It is a common morning response for me.

It was partly that recurring dichotomy that made me start meditating again, this time regularly. For at least a month now I meditate at least 10 minutes, sometimes more, and usually in the mornings, occasionally also for a longer time in the afternoon or evening. The first few minutes of which invariably involves me desperately wanting to write down the list of “stuff I want to look into or do” that goes through my mind, and has to be acknowledged and set aside. In the back of my mind is the knowledge that it will come up again when I’m not giving myself some quiet time to settle in.

After meditating I launch into the day which, also invariably, involves internet engagement. Damn, but “they” put some interesting links right next to where there is stuff I was originally looking for! No end of the encouragement for stimulation and distraction at the expense of actually getting something done.

Sometimes it seems my life is all about letting go. At this age, and position in life, I have to let go of the dream of …     Interesting, I just hit a blank spot and almost fell asleep. Maybe some avoidance? Maybe too much naval gazing?

I am developing a real resistance to looking back because “there be dragons!” I notice the energy that comes up with looking forwards, towards the “really cool things” there are to do. I don’t know if I will end up doing something I’ve never managed to do yet, which is to get really, really good at something. I’d like to. Three things come to mind easily: (1) Writing, (2) Traveling (which I’ll define in a moment), and (3) playing the guitar, or at least some musical instrument.

The latter recurring dream needs some work to turn it into a reality. I bought the first guitar I didn’t learn to play in my 20s, in college. Replaced another planned guitar purchase with a keyboard setup to put in my boat when I planned to be part of the cruising community wandering around the world. Just before I came to Namibia six years ago with the Peace Corps, I had purchased a basic, inexpensive, guitar intending to take it with me and learn. By this time I’d learned to not spend so much until I actually had made some progress on playing! I had heard PCVs had a lot of time on their hands in often remote locations and it seems like the perfect thing to do. When I discovered that taking the guitar on the flight overseas would involve more extra cost than the guitar cost me, I decide to pursue getting one when I got to Namibia. I then gave the guitar to a person (referred by a friend) who loved to play but had financial hardships and new medical conditions that were challenging. He was an older guy, and I’m sure he got WAY better use, and enjoyment, out of the instrument than I would have had I sold it. And I feel good about it. So I arrived in Namibia guitarless. And, as it turns out, I have been much busier than I anticipated while here. but the work and my life here has been rewarding at times and never something I regretted. Devoting my time to learning an instrument just never took priority. As fate so often does, a friend in Windhoek (the capital city) told me in January he had an older guitar he would give me on my next trip! Now I’m going back to Windhoek, but only for a few days before departing to return to the USA and start a longer trip. No guitar (once again).

Now I’m embarking on the “travel” dream. I honestly don’t know how it will pan out. For three months I’m going to be on a pre-defined (by me) schedule with lots of time to enjoy friends and trips in a place I’m familiar with – the USA. I am starting the trip prepared to continue it indefinitely if it works out that way come the end of August.

Come to think of it, I came to Namibia saying I was prepared to stay here if it worked out – but I wasn’t planning on it. I was planning for the possibility of it, and I’ve ended up owning a home and getting permanent residence status here. I’m glad I left the gates open to that six years ago. Now, my travel is being approached in the same way. Mostly my hopes for the longer trip involve meeting people that are interesting, experience new ways of living, and being able to have lots of engaging conversations. Seeing places is of interest, but it’s not the draw for me. Plus, for decades, I’ve dreamed of travelling without an end point planned. Since I was about 30 I’ve felt I could live indefinitely out of a suitcase. That belief hasn’t been tested more than business travel that sometimes had me planted in one country or another for several months at a time, but it still felt, and feels, right. I do enjoy having my “nest” to come home to periodically – maybe that’s what Oranjemund will come to mean for me. We’ll see. I’m looking into preliminary plans for continued travel starting in September but won’t commit to something for at least a month or so. It is fun to be starting a whole new life experience at 72!

One of the things I am good at is meeting people easily. Yet I still feel anxious about being able to meet and engage with people on an extended trip. I must be careful of a fundamental hope/expectation that I’ll bump into new lifelong friends that I relate to closely, or even (deep, dark and very private hope) a relationship that works for me for a reasonably long period of time – something that has eluded me for decades largely due to my own obstacles. That, also, has eluded me.

Interestingly enough, however, one part of the journey, the trip on the California Zephyr train from Emeryville California to Chicago Illinois I’ll have a traveling companion: my ex-wife from 40+ years ago! Since we divorced (I was about 30 at the time), we have stayed in touch off and on, sometimes more than a decade went by with no contact. But we both always felt we had been friends. The last few years we’ve reconnected and become very good friends. She’s flying out to California to join me on that trip, and will meet my daughter and her mom (my other “ex”) there! Knowing all of the parties involved I expect it will be fun and interesting for all. I’ll let you know.

And thus, in this writing, I demonstrate the struggle of writing when there are so many “really cool” things going on, and to be anticipated, in my life. I’m going to leave in the detail and stories even though I digressed from the “Just So Much” theme. It exemplifies the problem. I am so fortunate, and grateful, to have a life at 71 that is so full of interesting things to do and look forward to.

If you got this far, please “follow” (button on the lower right of the home screen) and you’ll get an email when I post a new blog. I’d like to stay in touch with you personally, also.

006 Sites Announced!

006 Sites Announced!

Posted on May 24, 2015
Written on May 24, 2015

I’m genuinely sorry there have been so few blog posts. That probably won’t change as long as my group is in Pre-Service Training( PST), not only because time is very limited, but internet access, for me, is extremely limited! It simply doesn’t work in my host home, so I have to depend on time away from classes and in internet cafes. Starting June 19 or so, I’ll be on my permanent site and will have much more time, and access, to make entries that are more what I plan – cultural comments, etc.

SITES ANNOUNCED! Wednesday of last week (May 20) the 31 people in my group (still no dropouts!) were given our site assignments! In my case, I am VERY happy with the job, and the site, but it is not at all where I had (kind of) hoped to be. As you’ll hear … no problem.

I’m going to be in Windhoek – the capital city of Namibia – assigned to the Penduka Trust, an NGO dedicated to assisting disadvantaged poor women, many of which are recovered Tuberculosis patients. The initial assignment will be to help some existing craftswomen start a business selling handcrafts in Wire Scupture and Beadwork (don’t know much more than that), and also to help get started a business using a brand-new peanut-butter machine and selling commercial peanut butter! I expect to be able to sample the product regularly. There are many more specific activities (poultry farming, textile products and embroidery, a vegetable garden, etc. that can also become Income Generating Activities (IGA’s) for the group. I’ll also be working with the trust, itself, in management training, grant/proposal requests, and lobbying with investors and governments for funding. I am – to put it mildly – VERY excited about the upcoming work. And nervous. It’s one thing to consult to large US corporations when the results of your work often disappear into the corporate morass. It’s kind of safe in a way. But this work is no-kidding important to the project and the people. I “know” it will work out well, but it’s kind of scary. This group has never worked with a Peace Corps volunteer so I’ll be establishing the relationships and systems from scratch – that is very good! And it matters. That feels good, and is scary.

Since I’ll be in Windhoek, I (with Cristal, who will be nearby me in Windhoek but on a different project) was given a special briefing on safety. Windhoek is a dangerous city in many ways, and the crime rate is increasing. The briefing, and the writeup of the location, made it seem that I was going to be living in a compound (which I am) that would prevent me from really being in open space and would restrict my ability to walk, hike, etc. We can’t go outside of the immediate area without using a company driver or a taxi, and only specific taxis at that. I literally couldn’t sleep early Thursday morning (woke up at 1:30, and never got back to sleep) worrying about feeling like I was going to be in a prison compound. Not fun.

So, on Saturday, the CED group (my group of 13) made a trip into Windhoek to pick up goods for some local business people we are working with, and they arranged to drive me by the location to put my mind at ease. To make a dramatic understatement, I am … at ease. The location is stunningly beautiful. I’ll have a bungalow (round brick walls and a thatched roof) of my own, and the compound is literally a resort! My front door opens onto a large and very beautiful lake, and I can’t see any signs of a city all the way to the horizon. It is blissfully quiet. About 30 meters away is a restaurant/bar with a dining room and a patio with seating for have a quiet drink, etc. And there is a small dock leading from the shore and a place to sit on the end of the dock and just enjoy the wildlife. There is a full-facility shared kitchen, which is more than fine with me since it will help me meet people, and Ill have a small refrigerator and hotplate in my bungalow. Hot running water, a shower, a small fridge in my room, etc. As my classmates say: “I hit the jackpot”, and ALL of them are planning to visit! That is REALLY good news, since my group is amazingly good.

I was overcome a bit realizing how lucky I was with this facility. I’ll post pictures when I can.

So – still hang in there, I just don’t have much flexibility at the moment but that will change the end of June. Meanwhile, celebrate with me since I think I’m coming up on two (at least) of the most enjoyable years of my life. If I can just get through PST…..

PLEASE WRITE!  Yes, I would enjoy comments, and having you follow the blog site. But also, please do write emails. I’m getting very few of them and it is a foreign land, far away. My group of trainees here is absolutely fabulous, but hearing from my community in Sausalito and in the US is very welcomed. The same email addresses you’ve always used!

All my best – I have to get ready for an Afrikaan’s language test this week – Tuesday. Not worried, but it is a LOT of work!

Andy

005 Hang in there!

Post Title: 005_Hang In There!
Written Date: 15/05/10
Posted Date: 15/04/10

This is REALLY going to be short! It is almost impossible to find time to write a blog while we’re in PST (the initial 8-9 weeks).  We had an all-day “Cultural” event on Saturday, where the host parents came over and prepared traditional dishes in the traditional, open fire, ways. We slaughtered two goats (yup – live in the back of a pickup in the AM, cooked and eaten by 4:00 PM, and we did it all), six chickens, and a whole slew of “worms” which turn out to be really tasty and good with the spices they use. They aren’t really worms, they are caterpillars. Big relief, right?

Tuesday we (the CED folk) teach classes to the locals on business plans, Registration with the government, and associated topics. Wed – Friday we cover marketing, financial management, management structures, etc. with the intent of giving them at least an introduction into how to establish and run a new business. I really, really want to write about the existing knowledge (not much), the existing businesses (gobs of them, but nothing you’re used to thinking about as a business), and the changes in how I perceive business in this culture. But it will have to wait. My portion is two classes, one Tuesday and one Wednesday. They Friday we have language “mid-terms”, and other activities during the week. The Health volunteers teach an equivalent set of classes on HIV/AIDS, and other health topics.

PST is, in fact, very stressful mostly because of the minimal amount of time available.

Right now, Group 41 is collecting in the café to have lunch together and most of us will go off to play soccer as a stress break – it’s a good one.

So – not much interesting to pass on. One cultural difference is that few of the host families (31 of them in our class) have more than one house key. So if they go out for the evening, we are either stuck outside (not good), or we have to coordinate with them to get the key. In my home, they will just come home about 1:00 AM and knock on my window to have me open the door for them. It genuinely isn’t safe to leave the door unlocked, apparently.

I can go on – but I have to stop to get ready for the classes. Oh, and I forgot I have to get comments to a business plan for my partner here (he wants to start a shuttle business) for this evening.

Start dreaming about what you’d want to include in a “care package” – it takes about 6 weeks for a package to arrive here, so don’t send any frozen carrots or ice cream! I still owe you all some address information.

Andy

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

004 Kings and Coronations

OK, I have GOT to get this site set up for good photos – or any photos! Oh well, it’s coming.

Today a bunch of us went to a King’s Coronation! Namibia has about 8-9 major tribes, and many of them have sub-tribes, so there are something like 17-20 “tribes” in Namibia often with completely dissimilar languages, often with somewhat similar dialects.

The Herero people are a major tribe, and were the target of a genocide in the early 1900’s by the occupying German forces, or at least the commander of the forces. (Google “Herero Genocide” if you want more info.) Turns out that specific event served as an initial effort, possibly a blueprint, for the Holocaust in WWII. Eugen Fisher was a key figure in this event and he formulated many of his theories from his work here – which involved “work” similar to Dr. Josef Mengele in WWII. The Herero/Nama genocide was a major influence on Nazi leaders before and during WWII. One of the active political topics in Namibia is the ongoing desire of the Herero people to have some kind of compensation for the land and people they lost. Germany has formally apologized (several years ago). In some ways it is similar to the white man displacing the American Indian, but beware of drawing parallels. There are similarities, but it wasn’t the same thing, at all.

Africa has a very rich and varied history. That is becoming more real to me but I haven’t even scratched the surface of understanding the Namibian culture, much less Africa as a whole.

That being said, the Herero people had a funeral for their old chief last month, and had a coronation ceremony, today, for the man that was unanimously chosen as the new chief/king. Hundreds of Herero people, all dressed in their traditional finest. More on that when I can post some pictures. We were watching from the sidelines, and a very formally dressed military man came up and asked us to follow him, whereupon he led us to sit directly in front of the speaker’s platform and they stretched out a red carpet for us! We sat on the ground (THAT part wasn’t fun) and the speaker interrupted his presentation to announce that we were in the Peace Corps, whereupon the audience clapped and gave us the traditional African ululation (Google it), which made us feel like we were in a National Geographic special. Pretty amazing, and what an experience. A couple of us leaned over to each other during the 45 minutes we were there (it went on all day) and simply said “Uhhh, we’re in Africa attending a king’s coronation!” Wow.

Virtually everyone we meet in Namibia is very friendly and welcoming. Many wonder what we are doing here – they’ve never seen this many white people in a group. But it’s amazing what some friendly direct questions and answers produce. We are increasingly learning to appreciate and understand the Tribes, Namibians, and Africans (and they are NOT all the same thing!) and experiencing them as people just like we are. It is amazing the commonality people have even though the specifics differ by culture. But it’s way to easy to let the “culture” explanation mask minor things that keep us from connecting to the individual we are communicating with. One of the things we are learning to appreciate about the Peace Corps is the effort they go to to help us learn the actual culture while still identifying with people as individuals. I wish that training was available to more people.

I’m at a different cafe, now, with a MUCH better internet connection, and plan to spend a few hours here, today, and several hours tomorrow. But even if not at a connection, I’m going to try and keep up blog entries into a WORD document and post them when I can. That’s my intent, at least.

It really helps when you guys (readers) “follow” (upper left hand corner of the screen) or comment. It gives me a sense of accountability for making some of what I’m experiencing available to you. Thanks!

Andy

003 Quick, quick, always quick! (rats!)

Post Title: 003 Quick, quick, always quick! (rats!)
Written Date: 15/04/30
Posted Date: 15/04/30

Biggest problem so far? NO INTERNET AT MY HOST HOME! (?*()$^&) Yeah, Yeah, I know (Lara), First World Problem. But actually, no. Cell access over here is probably better than in the US, and the cell phone services are DEFINITELY easier to use! Internet/Hot Spot capable phone (new), separate line just for internet use (not all that expensive), and the phone works GREAT at the meeting hall and most everywhere else, but not in my home! Sigh … to be continued.

I’m stealing a few minutes Thursday after classes to make a minor update.

TRAINING: The PC has put a LOT of thought into training. We have had a very busy week getting from 2 – 6 hours a day training on cultural differences, safety, relationships, health, and other topics, all with the purpose of making sure we have the maximum chances to be safe, and to understand the culture we are/will be living in. Two hours a day (just in class) in language training, every day. Plus our number one priority – explicitly – is to be able to integrate into the communities we are assigned to. At the moment, that means learning the culture, foods, families, relationships, and other undefinables from the families with whom we live. I’m fortunate in that my host husband and wife/mother and father are very easy to talk to and engaging. Too many learnings for this post, however – that will have to wait.

TRANSPORTATION: We can be picked up by a small “combi” (a 13 seat van) and dropped off in the afternoon, but I’m starting to walk. It gives me 40 minutes, one way, to listen to Afrikaans lessons/tapes on my “thank god I got it” Apple Nano iPod. Walking is king, but between cities “hiking” (hitchhiking) is the way to go, apparently. We don’t do it, yet. Don’t know the country well enough. Time will come…

CULTURE: No way I can capture it all, but a few tidbits that come to mind are: (Bear in mind that NOTHING applies to EVERYBODY – probably not even that statement. I’m only speaking from my own experience and what we have been presented in training.)

  1. Very conservative country and standards. The vast majority of the people (total population about 2.3 million) are Christian (like 95% or something – somebody look it up and post as a comment), with a smattering of other religious faiths. They are very tolerant, however.
  2. Oddly, it’s common for men to have multiple, and sometimes extra-marital relationships. Not OK, but common. Similar to the US in that, but probably more stigma than in the us. However, if the woman has an extramarital relationship, or a “reputation”, it is a very, very serious problem for her.
  3. Death, and killing, are uncomfortably common here. Most of the people we speak with are incensed over the fact that men just kill women, and occasionally the other way around, with seeming casualness over relationships that end, thwarted love, etc. Funerals are a common part of the “social” scene.

FOOD: This is for Beverly in her comment/question. Mostly protein. Vegetables actually more expensive than meat. Meat more expensive than “bap” (maize/corn in a kind of rough polenta that is almost tasteless without gravy) that is almost always white. The people we have met are not starving, but nutrition is an issue to consider. For the most part, Namibia is a fairly well to do country except for an extreme income disparity. It’s uncomfortably large. I’ve arranged to have mostly eggs for breakfast, which reminds me I have to get off NOW to pick up eggs before the combi departs. Can’t walk home tonight, it’s not safe after dark.

More when I can. Patience….

Andy

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.