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.

002_Priorities and Posting

Post Title: 002_Priorities and Posting
Written Date: 15/04/26
Posted Date: 15/mm/dd

PRESCRIPT: Very slow connection, limited time, and large files I haven’t been able to reduce in size as yet. Bottom line: posting this WITHOUT the pictures it refers to! I”ll update with photos, later.

MINI-STORY: The saga of the Smart Phone. The same phone that disappeared in JFK decided to disappear, again, the second day in Okahandja in training. But I discovered I’m REALLY good at one thing; hiding valuables like passports and – um – cell phones in my baggage. When I got to my host family, six days later, I was “unpacking” (I use the term very loosely) and bumped into my cell phone, again, tucked away behind something so it wouldm’t get stolen. FINALLY (I thought), I’ll be on the internet – but AT&T in their infinite wisdom (translation: greed?) made the phone so that even if it unlocked it won’t make a hot spot if it’s not AT&T service. SOO, I bought a Namibian Samsung that works just fine for a hot spot! Yea! BUT – the cell signal at my host families’ home isn’t good enough to support a hot spot. So, for the next seven weeks until mid-June or so when I’m assigned a site, I’m without Internet service unless I can go to an Internet café, or somewhere to connect occasionally.

At the moment, I’m in a Volunteer’s home here in the area skipping soccer with my group so I can get caught up!

All of which brings me to this:

I’m going to have to generalize by necessity, so any of the statements are generally/directionally true but there are certainly exceptions. I’ll mention them if relevant.

BLOG UPDATES: The PST (Pre-Service Training – first three months) time is very demanding. We have classes 7:30 – 4:30 daily, six days a week, not much time off during that time, and have now started serious language training. I’m assigned Afrikaans (which means I’ll most likely be somewhere in mid-southern Namibia when assigned a site in June). We have to either walk to “class” (30 min minimum from where I am), or get a van that picks up in neighborhoods throughout Okahandja. Only 2 of the 31 trainees (like me) are close enough to have a 10-15 minute walk. We can’t be out after dark (about 6:00 nowadays) because it’s dangerous – more on that later at some point, and we are “almost” required to walk in pairs, at least. So it’s really hard to get to the internet for anything substantial. And EVERYTHING takes pre-planning and adjusting.

So, I’m prioritizing language study over blogging updates, although after almost two weeks here some of the hurdles are overcome and I should be able to actually post at least once a week. Plus if I can just drop on a short post through cell phone access I’ll do that. From what we are told, when we’re on site after PST (when I’m a sworn Peace Corps Volunteer instead of just a trainee), access should be more reliable and predictable.

LOCAL STUFF: The Namibian people are very friendly. Yet there is SOOOOO much I don’t understand! I went to church with part of my host family this morning; a Lutheran service, and three hours! It is an interesting combination of fairly strict ritual with a personal touch that I never saw in the US, even as a child in small churches in East Texas. There were 250-300 people in the service at a local church in the Nau-Aib section of Okahandja. It is religious service, but it’s also clearly a “center of community” event. They recognize birthdays, births, deaths, marriages, anniversaries, and visitors. The pastor at the beginning of the service pointed me out and asked if there was someone who could translate to English – there was. My neighbor, Staigh (pronounced “stay” but I’m not sure how it’s spelled) came with us.

MY HOST FAMILY: Francesca and Hans Fisch have made me a part of their family – all of the host families do this for the trainees that are assigned to them. They speak Afrikaans at home, and will be helping me learn the language when I can focus on it (which has to be soon!). When I got to the home on Thursday afternoon (we spent the first night on Wed night), there were twelve people in the small living room waiting for me! Francesca and Hans have four children of their own (12, 8, 3 and 1), and with other relatives living in the home, other children they are taking care of because parents have died, and neighbors, mothers, sisters, brothers, etc. the house is VERY busy all the time until about 8:00 PM.

Mildred (8) and Blessing (1) – Blessing isn’t too happy with being picked up! Blessing has been staring at me in between galumping around on her bottom – she’s trying to get herself to stand up without holding on to something but isn’t quite there yet. A week ago on Friday morning when I left the house, I waived to everyone and said “Totsiens” (pr: tote seens) which is “see you later”, and Blessing broke into a huge grin, dropping her pacifier in the process, and waived at me! Awwwwwww.

Last week, Thursday evening, when I walked around the corner to go to my home, Kito (3) saw me and came running down the street to see me with his arms out to be picked up and hugged! It was really nice. I’m known as “Opah” (grandfather) to the kids.

Kito(3). He is as this picture shows, quite a challenge for his mom and dad (and me on occasion).

Staigh and his wife, Wilhamina, with their son Xavier. Staigh almost lives with the Fisch’s, and was in fact raised by Francesca because his own mother died when he was very young. Death is a very, very common thing here. It will take some getting used to.

The Fisch home is MADE of love. It’s astounding. People flow in and out from the neighborhood constantly from about 6:30 AM until 7:30 PM. And whatever food isn’t eaten from the plates is put in a bucket and put outside and people needing food stop by and take some. I’ve learned about 18 names so far of people who seem to be there most of the time.

Peace Corps requires a separate room, with a door that locks and a window. I’m lucky in that I have a comfortable bed, and my host family provided bedding. Peace Corps provides a mosquito net and absolutely, unequivocally, requires that we use it! Period! Plus we are required to take Anti-Malaria pills daily. We are also required to lock our doors when we are gone, and it’s probably a good idea. Things we take for granted are WAY interesting to the kids, and they love to pick things up! We’ve had to have some rather serious moments (particularly for Kito) about this, but they are very respectful of older people (and I am, ahem, older!).

OK – I have to stop for now. I’m going to try and write more even if I can’t put it on the blog site right away, so hopefully will have more interesting and culturally informative words as we move forward.

Please let me know if there is anything specific you’d like to know about! My time to write is still very limited, but I’m keeping a list!

OH – and “FOLLOW” the blog site if you can. Button is on the upper left of the blog page. Then you’ll get an email when I post something, and I’ll know you’re following.

Andy

001_Travel to Namibia

Post Title: 001_Travel to Namibia
Written Date: 15/04/19
Posted Date: 15/04/26

Today is April 19, Sunday, and the first time I’ve had a good opportunity to sit down and write something that is more than a few random thoughts. The first several days it was almost impossible to find a few minutes to even drop a note onto the page. More on that later. But we only have internet access (at least for now) through an “internet café” in town that is only open certain limited times, NOT including any time on Sunday (today) which we found when we walked about 1.5 miles or so to get there. I’ll be able to measure the distance another time. SO… I’m sitting the the “dining hall” of the compound we are staying in the first week, writing this in Word to be able to post/blog it first time I have a chance to get on the internet. But it may be a few days.

I was widely requested before leaving to provide some structure of a travelogue of the trip over, so this first major post will be kind of dull for the most part. Cultural notes start in posting #2.

My extended family all drove me to Oakland Airport on Sat AM early to put me in the tender clutches of Southwest Airlines to Baltimore – uneventful – where I spent a couple days with two really good friends that split their time between Baltimore and Sausalito. It was delightful, and the first night there the owner of their favorite restaurant stopped by the table to chat. Xenos is a very interesting, charming, and thoughtful man who has known my hosts for over 30 years. And I am happy to say that I have an open invitation to stop by on my way back into the United States, whenever that happens, to swap stories and spend the afternoon and evening drinking too much in his bar! I consider his offer to be very genuine, and plan to take him up on it.

Monday morning my hosts drove me to Philadelphia because they were going to visit friends there. Turns out the time to get me to the train station, take the train, and then get transportation to the hotel would have taken about the same amount of time as them driving all the way, and I didn’t have to lug 100 lbs of luggage and a heavy backpack!! THANK YOU! And I hope you had a good visit in Philly.

At the hotel, the 31 of us in my Namibia Peace Corps contingent (Group 41), introduced ourselves to each other and got “official” at noon when we registered with the normal amount of paperwork. In the afternoon and early evening, we had a series of presentations on what we were signing up for, and what the Peace Corps was expecting from us. Overall, it was very well done. The presenter was the Desk Officer for three countries in Africa (but not Namibia), and it was her first SOLO facilitation of a staging program for a group. The guy with her said this was his FIFTIETH facilitation, and he is the desk officer for Namibia and two other countries in Africa. Again, it was very informative, well run, and these folks clearly knew what they were doing and what they were talking about.

Then we (the volunteers of Group 41) went out for dinner and caught as much sleep as possible before meeting in the lobby at 2:00 AM to check out and get on a bus! Most of us got 3-4 hours of sleep, or less.

Then a bus ride right through Manhattan to JFK Airport, several hours of sitting around before we could even check in, then several more hours before boarding.

Personal story – I was certain my cell phone had been lost disembarking from the bus in JFK. Oh well – just the first of unexpected events that are expected on a venture like this. It turned up, later, in my bags in an unexpected place found while I was madly searching for my passport, which I had also lost track of. Sigh…

My group of 31 people (was 32, but one person was unfortunately medically disqualified at the last minute – very disappointing!) is made up of 6-7 people 50+ (“older” volunteers, of which I am the oldest at 65), probably 10-12 in the 23-24 or less age range, and the remainder scattered through the age ranges. 13 of us are in the CED (Community and Economic Development) Sector (translate: business), and 18 are in the Health Sector. There are also Education Sector volunteers in Namibia, but none in our group.

Part of the program on Monday afternoon was designed to help us get to know each other, and it worked. With that, dinner, and the HOURS and HOURS waiting on the bus and for the flight, we got to know each other fairly well by the time the flight departed at noon(ish) on Tuesday from JFK.

South African airlines – 14+ hour flight, uneventful, and as comfortable as that kind of thing can be any more. Disembarked in Johannesburg, and the normal waiting for the flight to Namibia. A few of us decided to follow each other and cleared through passport control only to find that we didn’t need to, so had to go through security, and passport control, again! At least we already started filling up our passports! In and Out of South Africa in one hour! Cool. We all changed into “casual business” clothing, and sat around various cafes until the flight departed almost five hours later.

It was about a 2 hour gate to gate flight, landed in Windhoek, and that’s when the photo was taken of our group when we first arrived in Namibia! Then another bus ride (1.75 hours) to Okahandja (North East of Windhoek) with everybody staring out the windows looking for Giraffes! All we saw were a few wild monkeys, and half the bus fell asleep for the last half of the trip.

We were dropped off at a “compound” around a Lutheran Church where we are living, dormitory style, until Wed of next week when we move in with families in the area to learn the customs and languages. When we arrived at the church area, we were greeted by a row of Namibians singing – and these folks REALLY know how to sing! What a welcome – we felt Africa all around us! It was very moving.

OK, that gets us into Africa/Namibia, and concentrated on the facts.

All of us in the group have said we get emotional at time realizing we are actually in Namibia, in Africa, starting on a truly daunting venture! Those thoughts and experiences will be the subject of future blogs. Thanks for making it all the way through this “factual” recitation.

More in the next post!

Andy

Patience

Sorry about no posts, but Internet access is VERY problematic. FINALLY got an ability to access WITWIA.   This is from my new cell phone. I’m in a mall in Windhoek on our first field trip, with three more immunization shots first, of course! Six so far.

I will post more, with pix, when the Internet “Thang” is worked out!

I’m fine,very happy and adjusting. Only saw some monkeys and bakke so far! Learning Africans, and living with a local family in Okahandja.