034 – The Constitution and People

Written 7 Jan 2021

Let’s put aside “right” and “wrong” for a moment. Many of us in the world, especially in the USA, are concerned for the events in Washington D.C. at the Capital on 6-7 January, 2021. It is a concern that has been growing over the years and isn’t played out in it’s entirety, yet. It could be a long two weeks before Mr. Biden takes on the immense power of the Presidency.

The USA is scarcely unique in having the fundamental issues of transfer of power come up: it’s been happening for thousands of years in virtually every known type of civilization. There is an oft-repeated phrase from numerous sources either as a quotation or a paraphrase: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” With humility, I’m not sure that is correct. Even if we learn, we are condemned to repeat it. Why? Because all of this involves humans. We can come up with Constitutions and other ways to deal with differing opinions about either how a government operates, and who is “right” about how to do it, or who is in power, but we have never been able to get everyone to agree on it. Probably never will.

In this case, enough (but not all) people in responsible positions (eventually) came up with the political will and personal courage to follow the guidelines they took an oath to protect, and it has (so far) seen us through one of the most, if not the most, serious challenges ever faced by our government in the USA. Some well meaning leaders took positions that I personally disagree with, but if they followed their oaths, and the Constitution they swore to uphold, I can defend them. That those guidelines exist is a tribute to the people who created the U.S. Constitution, and the country. It was not, and still isn’t, an easy task.

The American Constitution isn’t perfect – far from it – but it was put together by people just like you and me who decided to really care and discourse, and compromise, and take reasoned and collaborative action to fix perceived problems and set up for the future. In the USA we tend to deify the Founding Fathers responsible for this document (much to our detriment in my opinion). They were fallible humans just like us. But they did it.

One fascinating book about the specific events of the 1770 “Boston Massacre” and John Adam’s defense of the British defendants gives some insight as to the facts of the situation in the United States prior to the Declaration of Independence as opposed to the often mischaracterized historical “stories”. These factors were strongly considered in creating the U.S. Constitution. The event in Boston was in some ways similar to what just transpired in Washington. (If you choose to think I make a direct comparison, you do me, and your evaluative skills, an injustice.) I strongly recommend John Adams Under Fire: The Founding Father’s Fight for Justice in the Boston Massacre by Dan Abrams. It is informative and valuable and reads like a good novel. How do responsible and informed people deal with the often irresponsible actions of those governed?

A second, more contemporary, perspective is the book/play What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck. It is a very readable and even handed discussion of how the Constitution affects our lives, today, in very personal ways, and discusses why we should care and what we can do about it.

Lest you are left with the impression that I am hiding behind discussions and objectivity as supplied by someone else, I personally hope that the persons holding the offices designated in Article 25 of the U.S. Constitution take action – NOW – and remove Mr. Trump from office, immediately. My desire for this is based on the rational fears of what he could do in the next two weeks as confirmed by his history so far.

You are welcome to leave comments pro and con of course, but I would hope that you take some time to read at least some of each of the two referenced works so you can make a more informed decision about what you feel should result from the situation we find ourselves in – not just the citizens/voters of the USA, but citizens of the world. An informed discourse is the only – the ONLY – hope for a reasoned future and the success of experiments in democracy. Make no mistake – it is still an experiment and it will fail if we do not take our responsibilities seriously.

033 – And another thing

Written: 2 January 2021

I am really struggling. Big time. I want to post more on this blog – the really way down deep kind of want. But it clearly hasn’t happened as yet. And it’s me. – nothing but me – that gets in the way.

Fundamentally (I think) the desire to make WITWIA.COM something much better than it currently is comes from wanting to connect with people who read it – by and large my friends, past friends, and acquaintances. It is not only great whenever I do talk or write with you, but it avoids the pernicious guilt I feel by NOT doing it! I have emails that are months old and still highlighted for me to reply. I’m so sorry.

While there are no reliable statistics easily at hand, I’m pretty sure (that is sarcasm) I’m not the only one that doesn’t stay in touch as much as I’d like. It’s not very consoling to be part of a crowd, however.

Also, maybe I can make a few new friends from people that bump into this blog and feel like responding because they relate to something here and want to connect, themselves. That would be really nice, and consider yourself encouraged if you fall into that category.

Getting started as a “writer” is hard or I’d do it better. (Doh) And at this stage in my life I want to continue to gain new skills, to take on the unusual (to me). I want to decide to change and do something about it, not just talk about it. Having a tendency to be judgmental, I am especially adroit at turning that tendency against myself which makes this whole process more complicated and slows it down.

And – as I am doing right now (damn it!) – I get immersed in rabbit holes very easily. Having a facile mind makes life in general very interesting, and also creates real hurdles to being expressive AND succinct. I’ve never been great at reining it in.

My imagination says this is already boring, but I’m going to persist and edit this down – it remains to be seen whether or not this sentence makes it through the revisions. But I WILL get it out, today! I can’t improve unless there is something “out there” to improve!

Part of the block that shows up about writing is that I have so MUCH to say! It all gets jammed up and ends up getting in the way of letting anything through. But others do it, so I will too. HOW is the operative question.

When my daughter was about 10-12 years old, maybe younger – I took her to the local library in Venice California and attended a lecture from Ray Bradbury who lived nearby to our great fortune. One of the things I remember him saying was that writing doesn’t get easier, he just wanted it very much and basically got addicted to writing. And he was GOOD at it! There’s probably something to pay attention to there. (‘Ya think?”) He always claimed he wrote 1000 words a day since he was twelve. (point of reference, this blog posting is 1194 words – I counted just before I published it. Well, MS Word counted.) I thought that was a LOT – until I Googled “how many words per day to good writers write?” Sheesh! Yes, I have set a goal – but I’m not tellin’! Announcing it makes it about performance or promises and I just want to change my skills and interests.

A friend who is a writer (professional) recently told me to start by being clear on what I wanted to say. That seems to be very useful advice – we’ll see how well it works on this first blog since he mentioned it. (Thanks, Roger. Let me know.)

At any rate – here goes, again. At least I’m going to put this “out there” and worry about getting it right later. Please forgive my ineptitude and encourage me anyway!

The challenge of writing would come up anywhere – it’s not unique to my experiences of being in Africa. Living in this small town is a lot like living in a small town anywhere except with more sand, oryx, jackals, ostriches and hyenas in decreasing order of exposure. But they are all here – plus a lot more. While I could write years’ worth of daily blogs about living in Africa, my purpose at this point is to talk about who I’m becoming, what I’m planning, and how writing fits into it.

Of course one of the reasons I want to develop this blog, and my skills in writing, is to add interest and purpose to my proposed trip starting some time in 2021. Details (such as they are) in a future blog. But I plan/hope to take freighters, trains, and avoid aircraft whenever possible. Airliners go too fast and too high to see what’s going on around me. At 71 I’m hoping to depart on a “voyage of discovery”, and of celebration. I mean what the hell – I can, so why wouldn’t I?

Very few goals have been established for this proposed trip, but one of them is to spend a month or two in California and see a lot more of my daughter. (No worries kiddo, not every day and not for a solid two months!) But when I leave I want my boat off of my life’s plate. I lived aboard that 42 foot (13 meter) sailboat for the vast majority of 25 years, and it worked really well for me. But that life is behind me. All of my “stuff” (For some fun, google “George Carlin on stuff”.) is stored on the boat and is inconsequential except for memorabilia and heritage materials I want to give to my daughter. I have everything I need here at my two bedroom home in Oranjemund. Actually more than I need.

There is a practical interest in writing also. It is strangely not difficult for me to “admit” (state is more accurate) that I’m getting older and my body just won’t do what it used to do. Writing seems a logical choice for staying engaged and challenged, and is within my physical limitations – at least at this point! And I’m hardly the first one to think of this! Lots of precedents. If “they” can do it, so can I.

So – I’m off, and you’re invited to go with me as I plan, dream, think, possibly grieve at appropriate moments, and generally try to make sense of my place in the world as I live in it now. Don’t forget there are 30+ posts before this one with a bit of history (albeit poorly documented) of my almost six years in Namibia so far. I have hopes for the next six years, or more.

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032 – Reset

This is my first in what I intend to be a new trend – shorter and more “in the moment” posts.

REQUEST! A few people told me they commented on my last post “031 Why Africa” but I never saw them! I have no idea why (at least as of now). I posted a comment myself (not as the site owner) on that blog, and it seems to have worked correctly. Now the request: Please post a quick comment if you are inclined – I want to make sure the feature is working (now?).

On to the reason for the title: “Reset”
I’m in the process of making a major decision to go on a LONG trip, departing within the next year or so. The intention is to take a mode of transportation back to the San Francisco area (like a passenger on a container ship when they start accepting passengers again!) and stay in a bnb for a month or so visiting with my daughter and clearing out my boat currently in storage in Napa. When I leave the area, the goal is to have personal effects off or handled, and the boat up for sale or sold.

After that – travel with no end point determined. I read a story recently by a woman who had been travelling for over five years. Turns out it was WAY less expensive than even a long trip than I had previously envisioned. Destinations determined on the fly, but staying about a month at each destination point anywhere in the world.

I’ve been working “make a difference” here in Namibia and enjoyed not every, but most, minutes of the time. But life takes its own pace, and I’ve been increasingly personally off center. So I may take the next few years to travel, meet people of a similar mind set, and think, read, talk, see, listen, taste, probably suffer a bit (well, maybe just be uncomfortable – I’m going to try and avoid the “suffer part), question, learn, write, take pictures, meet people, move on, stay, and pretty much do whatever seems most appropriate in the moment

Not decided as yet, and LOTS of details yet to come. But I’m going to BLOG the process here.

Meanwhile, I’m going to host discussions with the TED Circles program – I may contact you with an invitation to participate.

I also need to be MUCH better at understanding and using this blog space. Online education and training to follow on how to make this space MUCH, MUCH better!

Contact energizes me – please comment, or follow by clicking the button at the bottom right corner.

031 – Why Africa?

(Mostly written in March, 2020, this was “pre-COVID”, “pre-Election”, “pre-California Fires”, etc.. The first half of this was written before most of 2020 had (thankfully) disappeared into history. 2020 pretty much sucked looking back from mid-November 2020. There are a few updates at the end of this post.)

One month from today (ed: “today” is 15 March 2020) I will have been in Namibia for 5 years. Over four years in the “bubble” of the Peace Corps, and for over half a year as an American ex-pat in Namibia. The practicalities of living here – buying property, a car, and (required) registration as a Namibian tax payer (though one with zero income!) – can obscure my love of my USA home – Sausalito, California. I have called Sausalito home for many, many years and will probably have lived there more there anywhere else, ever, when I stop counting. I will continue to return to Sausalito, and the USA, as long as I live – most likely. But then “life is what happens while we make other plans”. (attrib: various)

Yet here I am in Africa. Many people ask why, and I understand the curiosity. I’ve asked it of myself, and tried to come up with answers for others.

As the saying goes: “It’s complicated.” I can’t begin to make a list – But I’m going to try and express some aspects of what makes me continue to return here to Africa, and particularly to Namibia and Oranjemund. Most likely, I’ll fail. I have no delusions of being a writer, and extremely talented writers have tried to describe Africa, it’s soul, problems, joys, and realities. So I’m doing this mostly for me. Hopefully you’ll find it at least passably interesting.

Having returned to the USA only twice since April 2015, three things continue to stand out to me about North America. They are separate and distinct, and reliably consistent from personal visits, from talking with friends and family there while I am here, and from friends here who go there to visit and share their own impressions.

But before I get into those things, let’s first acknowledge that the USA isn’t one thing – it isn’t homogeneous. There are people living in my country (the USA) who suffer deeply from poverty, social marginalization, and a myriad of other causes that are deeply disturbing and serve to define their opportunities in very real ways. Saying “Things just work” (#1 below) can be portrayed as laughably naïve when applied to neighbourhoods in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or New York, or Dallas – just anywhere really. It is also unavoidably referential (see #2 below). Ultimately, I can’t begin to defend what I’m saying below as “truth” – it is expressed from my experience. That experience is woefully inadequate in many areas, and deeper than some in others. But it is my experience. As I said: “It’s complicated.”

  1. I like the way things just “work” in the USA.
    Until you’ve lived somewhere that doesn’t assume things work, it’s hard to describe. Of course it isn’t consistent –rolling blackouts, water shortages, people being late to meetings, internet failing, being able to get fast food or set an appointment, etc. all happen everywhere, but they are much, much more reliable in the USA than in the parts of Africa I have experience with personally (which is a miniscule part of the continent), or some knowledge of through my African friends, here. .
  1. With rare exceptions, American citizens – particularly (but not exclusively) those of us with middle or upper level economic conditions – have absolutely no idea how much we take for granted.
    Citizens of the USA are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunities we have. Yes, there are very serious problems and issues – and they matter.
  1. Finally (and most provocatively), I simply do not miss the USA.
    My daughter and friends, yes I miss them. But the rest of it I just don’t miss. I don’t dislike it, I just don’t miss it. I know that is repetitive, but it is a profoundly significant differentiation. I’ll enjoy it when I got back again to visit, but I don’t miss it. Sure, there is some temporary pleasure in not being forced to deal with the political polarization that is so ubiquitous now, but “this too shall pass”. I fear this particular period is going to do some real damage to my country, and to the world, from which we won’t recover for decades, and we certainly won’t recover to what it was like “before”. Frankly that could be a good thing. It all depends on what we (the citizens of the USA) decide to do moving forward. I wish I was more optimistic.

That being said, why is Africa my “Home is where the heart is” choice?

(From this point on, I’m writing on 8 November 2020 just after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election (pending the ubiquitous legal cases that follow Trump around like fruit flies, or more appropriately like jackals following a hyena).
Frankly I am REALLY happy to have been outside of the USA in the last year.

In either late February or early March, a friend at the U.S. Embassy here in Namibia called me and asked if I wanted a seat on the last airplane the Embassy had arranged to evacuate U.S. Citizens back to North America before the COVID lockdowns. I replied something like “Thank you for thinking of me buried away here in the isolated southern tip of Namibia, but ARE YOU CRAZY? I’M STAYING RIGHT HERE!”

Oranjemund, particularly, has been one of the safest areas in the world from COVID because it is so isolated here (check out Oranjemund on any map or Google Earth). Yes, we’ve had cases but nothing like the majority of the rest of the world, and particularly not like the USA. And being here forced the politics in the USA to be available from a distance – a distinction for which I felt incredibly thankful this year. (Not that Namibia doesn’t have its political challenges – but that’s for another day and another blog entry.)

Aside from COVID and U.S. politics, why do I like Africa? Things here are a bit more – fundamental. Literally yesterday I was walking out my kitchen door and just happened to see the faucets on my kitchen sink. They are old (ca. 1950’s when the house was built), and nothing like the up to date faucets in most middle class homes in the USA, but they deliver fresh, clean (and hot) water pretty reliably – at least they do here in Oranjemund which is a very unusual Namibian town. Not at all the norm. My small two bedroom house is adequate, not “fancy”, and I am comfortable. For me, that’s enough, and preferred.

Countless people have tried to describe Africa, and Namibia, and Oranjemund, for many, many years and they are MUCH more eloquent than me. My contribution to the endless (and growing) volumes of “Africology” can only come from my limited experience. I am moved, literally to tears occasionally, by the enthusiasm of Africans of all skin colors that shows up in dance and singing at the slightest excuse. I am equally distressed at the poverty and lack of education of such large parts of the population. I continue have a growing understanding of the rich history that I knew nothing of in my western education. I revel in slowly, slowly making good friends with whom I can share conversations from astoundingly different backgrounds but a shared commitment to seeking and understanding the others’ experiences. I constantly am challenged by the realities of being in the 2.7% of the Namibian population that is white and realizing that racism as it is known in the USA is not as big an issue here, but Tribalism – social stresses between different cultures of non-white (and white, but we don’t call it tribalism) cultures – is a HUGE problem here. To the best of my knowledge (and I’ve looked into it), I’m the only American (North, South or Central) in the southern half of Namibia – an area roughly the same size as California. It used to be weird, but now I feel much more like “just a Namibian among many”. And I like that.

I can go on, and on – and hope to in my future blogs. In short, I am content here in Namibia, and enormously grateful for being able to live an interesting, challenging, and to a small degree contributory life here as I go through my ‘70s. I couldn’t be happier, or more challenged.

I’ve generally been really crappy about blogging, but some current decisions and plans cause me to make a renewed pledge to myself to blog more. You won’t see a lot of images, this isn’t a travelogue, but rather will be presented with a bit of exploration of my own path through some interesting choices and environments at this point in my life. If I’m able to carry it off, you will see some extensive travel experiences (and images) when (if?) I start a long trip I am planning for next year which will include a brief return to the USA. But more on that, later.

See you again soon on the pages of this blog.

I love to video chat by the way and would be thrilled if want to catch up even if it’s been years. If you don’t know me and just want to chat about Africa, or whatever, contact me and we’ll set it up.

I plan to start hosting a TED Circle for conversations about “stuff that matters” (specific topics to be determined). Let me know if you’re interested in good conversation and meeting some new people.

030 – Africa, After the Peace Corps

Written and posted 3 February 2020

This is largely a “catch up” with my own situation. Future posts will include more information on projects, Africa, and other such items of interest.

I ended service with the Peace Corps on 17 August 2019. Staying in Namibia, I’m purchasing a property in Oranjemund and planning to stay there until a couple of projects are completed. Home is still in Sausalito, officially.

As positive as I am on thePeace Corps, I’m glad to no longer have it as the “bubble” I live within here in Africa. It is interesting how different things seem when I don’t have to be always aware of PC rules and reporting expectations. They aren’t unreasonable given that it is a government institution, but I find it easier to do the right things for my community without the overhead of expectations and reporting metrics that come with being a PC Volunteer.

If you are young, I strongly recommend volunteering – what you will get out of it is worth so much more than the time you spend in service. If you are older (as I am), I’d drop a line for a bit more of a conversation about what to expect and how to make your best decisions. I still think it’s a very good option, but there are things to consider as a 50+ volunteer that just don’t impact someone younger. The tag line “the hardest job you’ll ever love” is no joke. Take it seriously.

My primary project the first 2.5 years in Oranjemund was to set up OMD 2030 as a sustainable and self-governed NGO, working with Sue Cooper and Debbie Virting – both residents of Oranjemund. I am happy to say I have almost no direct impact on that NGO anymore outside of some clearly defined boundaries, and it is functioning as a healthy and growing non-profit NGO that was recently funded through 2020. One of my jobs is to work on funding beyond 2020, and I’m looking forward to helping out with that. While I still have an advisory role largely for financial affairs and for the Management Committee and governance, it simply isn’t my “baby” anymore. I couldn’t be happier about it. But it’s always hard to leave something you worked hard to start. All is as it should be, and this has been the plan from the beginning. You can keep up with it on www.OMD2030.com, or you can send me a return comment on this blog, or email andy@omd2030.com, asking to get copies of “The I”, the OMD 2030 newsletter published quarterly. It’s WAY cool what this citizen’s association has been able to accomplish.

Now that OMD 2030 is on its own, I’m concentrating on two major projects and a few smaller ones:

I’m still persevering in getting a National Museum started. The key displays will be based around the shipwreck of the “ Bom Jesus” in 1533 (you can see a short video). But the museum itself has a working title of “The //Kharas Cultural Museum (KCM)”, and will be an educational, cultural and research hub – by design. Unfortunately, it is really hard to get it going because the Namibia Government is facing severe financial and managerial challenges. I’ll post updates on this project as it (hopefully) starts to make some progress.
Locally, a few of us are working to start a Community Newsletter for Oranjemund. This is MUCH smaller in scope, but cannot succeed without community involvement. I’ll post some updates on this project, also.

A few of you have expressed an interest in contributing to projects over here. With thanks, I’m going to ask you to hold off until I have established an accountable, transparent and reliable structure to receive funds and ensure they go for the intended purpose. Stay tuned – particularly the Museum project will need all the help it can get, but we’re not ready to receive funds as yet. On the other hand, OMD 2030 is legally prepared to receive funding and if you want to contribute let me know and I’ll tell you how. It received a “no errors” financial audit by a chartered accountant in its first year of operation, and is in the process of being audited now for the second year – 2019. Copies of the audit reports are available – it’s like a 501.3.c non-profit organization in the USA.

As a non-Peace Corps Volunteer working in Africa, I’m content and facing all the normal stuff life throws at us. At the moment, I’m in Cape Town, South Africa, sitting in a coffee shop writing this. Some health issues came up (naturally as soon as I left the medical coverage of the Peace Corps) and very good health care is available in Cape Town. I should be back to Oranjemund next week.

I was fortunate to find a VERY good book that is filling my time while doing a lot of waiting here in Cape Town. “Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000 Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavour” (Martin Meredith). Coming from the USA we feel like we know a bit of history from studying the history of the USA and to some degree (if we were lucky) that of Western Europe. Having been in a small corner of Africa now for almost five years, I am just now realizing how rich is the history, and culture, of this continent. I highly recommend this book (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, others) if you have the slightest interest in opening your horizons to what goes on in the rest of the world outside of the bubbles all of us live in based on where we were born or grew up. The more I know, the more I realize I know so very little.

By the way, if you are interested in seeing the size of the United States vs. Africa, check out the image at True Size of Africa, but prepare to be humbled. I had no idea …

It’s been so long since I last posted. Sorry. I will (as always) try to be better. Maybe not so polished, but more frequent postings.

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Thanks for reading,