Back Home – The End of 2.5 Years Overseas

“One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

The biggest adventure we ever planned for and one that we spent years saving for is now complete. We spent almost exactly 2.5 year overseas, 2 years volunteering with the Peace Corps and then 5 months traveling in 10 countries. I’m sad it’s over, but excited for adventures ahead.

Josh and I hope to blog more about our travels over the next few months as we settle back into American life. It was difficult to keep up with blogging while experiencing our new environments and we were on the go quite a bit.

While we were living and traveling overseas, I marveled, questioned and observed other cultures and ways of life. In doing this, I have been able notice many things that make me appreciate my own country and culture more than I did before. Here’s a short list:

Safe & clean drinkable water from the tap, dishwashers, high pressure faucets, vacuums, water fountains, steam mops, smoke free restaurants, hot showers, carpet, fixed prices, schistosomiasis-free bodies of water,free drinking water at restaurants,  super fast wifi, tissues, thick tissues, paper towels, ATMs everywhere, national parks, guardrails, clean(ish) air, ambulances, well-organized queues, metered taxis, school buses, public parks with swings, school buses, washers, dryers, garbage disposals, a hard work ethic, entrepreneurs, well ventilated sewage systems, free entertainment,  beautifully landscaped lawns, couches, public bathrooms, dog parks, garden stores, cash registers, concerts, sprinklers, sweater shavers, easy to find trash cans, western food, costumes, museums, bike lanes, cars with seatbelts, free water in restaurants, customer service, street cleaning, traffic laws and regulations, vans with passenger limits, coffee shops, hot showers, rooms with multiple power outlets, flush toilets, free trail hiking, pets with collars, water fountains, sidewalks, strollers, sewage systems, cashiers who can always make change, free bread at restaurants, paved roads with few potholes, street signs, street lights, appointments & reservations, toilet paper holders, street names, free toilet paper in public bathrooms, pens aplenty as if they grow on trees, well-marked hiking trails, “pack it in, pack it out”, public libraries, speed limits, servers who bring checks promptly, professional sports, credit card acceptance at all places, custom food orders, grass, baby car seats, pretty fences, drawers, garbage pick-up, hot showers, incredibly fast Internet, The Bill of Rights, free wifi everywhere, malaria and dengue fever-free mosquitoes, car pollution standards, theater plays, safe & efficient public transport, free soap in public bathrooms, recycling centers, tape dispensers, A/C, instant hot showers, freedom, free speech, our Declaration of Independence (when I taught a lesson on the 4th of July this always choked me up), choices, choices, choices, convenience and variety.

There were also many things that I remember that I DON’T like about American life. Our attachment to materialism, our rushed life, how we take things for granted. The USA has done things I’m proud of but many things I’m not proud of. Our country isn’t perfect. We are coming home at a time when mass shootings are at their height and we have presidential candidates who use hate as their platform to win.

When we were in a particular country and I’d marvel at the beautiful sites before us, I’d remark out loud “Oh! My! Gosh! So beautiful.” And locals would say in one way or another, “Yeah, but it’s just home.” I get it – we take for granted what’s always been right before our eyes.

My new resolve is try my best to see my home with new eyes for what it is – the privilege to live here, the beauty around us, the ease and abundance we have in our daily lives.

I know that from now on but especially this holiday season when I go to use the sink, open a cupboard or fridge toppling with food, sleep in my temperature controlled home, admire the aesthetics of mine and others homes, get in a safe car, throw my trash in a dustbin, throw my toilet paper in the toilet bowl, walk, bike or drive on a paved road, climb the safe stairs in a tall building, etc, etc., Etc,. I’ll be reminded that I’m one of the lucky ones. That’s not to say everyone wants to switch places with us. Our complicated, distracted world is not for everyone.

We live daily with an abundance of riches and celebrations. And as we reenter the USA, I’ve got a whole new appreciation of them.

Happy Holidays from us to you!

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Leaving Africa

We leave Africa today and probably won’t be back for a long time. 😦

So many great things happened here in the two years we lived in Namibia, and the 8 countries we visited. So many firsts:
In Zambia, we swam at the top of Vic falls.
In Namibia, we climbed the oldest dunes in the world.
In all countries, we saw countless animals in the wild.
In Malawi, we swam in the bluest, clearest fresh water lake and jumped into a natural swimming pool at the end of our Mulanje hike.
In Tanzania, we climbed our highest mountain ever and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
In South Africa, we “swam” with sharks.

But most of all:
In Namibia, we learned about a new culture, way of life and tried our best to adapt to it.
In Namibia, I learned to cope and grieve for my Dad’s passing.
In Namibia I was challenged daily as an educator and got a real glimpse into life as a learner and teacher in Rundu.

But best of all, in Namibia, we made some of our best American and Namibian friends.

There was a lot of hard stuff too that I haven’t forgotten.

I think back to my 2013 self, the Lisa who was hesitant to click YES and officially join Peace Corps because her assignment was in Africa. I was afraid of all I’d read, seen and heard.

I’m glad I said Yes and saw things for myself. If I had said no, none of these great things would have happened, all the great people I now get to call friends and family would just be strangers.

So during our last few hours here, my reflection is serving as a reminder to push myself always, in small ways and big. The rewards have far outweighed my fears.

Goodbye Africa. Thanks for all the gifts you gave me. I’m really gonna miss you. Hope to see you soon.


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Top 10 (not so obvious) most-used gear items we brought for our five month COS (Close of Service) trip

We’ve been “on the road” for more than two months now! It’s hard to believe we finished our Peace Corps service way back in July.

There were many things we had to get done at the end of our service, and packing for our COS (close of service) trip was one of them. Packing has never been easy for me. I always pack too much!

While Josh prefers to travel as lightly as possible, I have a hard time letting go of some items. I started out with a big pack, and as we went along I realized there were many things I wasn’t using. I left those belongings in the backpacker lodge’s free boxes.

Here’s our list of the 10 best items we brought along for this five month trip, aside from the obvious items you pack right away like a good camera, backpack, sunglasses,  water bottle, clothes, scarf (bring a scarf! keeps you warm, makes me feel more dressed up), bug spray, and for us, camping items, etc. Many of the same items we packed for Peace Corps we also brought on our COS trip.

  1. Katadyn water filter – In Namibia we were very fortunate that we could drink water right from the tap (we did, however, use the filter Peace Corps gave us most of the time). For the rest of our travels the water hasn’t been safe to drink in most places, so we use this water filter to make the water clean. We have a steri-pen as well to purify water but left that with our Peace Corps daughter. Bottled water adds up in price. This has saved us a lot of money.
  2. Platypus water bladder (2.5L) – To go along with the water filter, it would be a pain to pump water multiple times a day if we only had our single water bottles. When camping we also may not be able to be near a water source for a day or two, so we fill these handy platypuses and we’re set. We found the water bladders came in handy on our many hikes during our trip, as we used them as our hydration system with attached hoses. If you’re only concerned with one bottle a day, there are products like the life straw that would work well.
  3. Waterproof stuff sack and stuff sacks – When you travel, you are often in wet places with your phone and other electronics. We’ve used this floatable waterproof stuff sack to keep our belongings safe, to soak our foot in when a sea urchin attacks and as a basin to wash clothes. Stuff sacks are a great way to keep your clothing and gear organized.
  4. Battery packThis awesome gadget was given to us by our friends Mike and Christine when they came to visit, and it’s proven extremely useful. When we are traveling places where there won’t be electricity, or if the power goes out, which happens often in Southern Africa, this is able to power up both of our iPhones and give us a few more days of use. On a whim we also brought one of these handy car chargers and have used that quite a few times on long rides to charge our phones.
  5. Plug for sink – This flat rubber stopper is great for washing clothes in the sink as well as for filtering water and it works with all size drains.stop2
  6. Chico bag – My in-laws bought me this for my birthday and it has been such a great item on the road. I use it as a stuff sack when it’s in my backpack and when we go places for the day I prefer to use it over a purse. It’s super lightweight and has two big pockets on the side for water bottles. It can easily hold a lot of items (blanket, jacket, book, food) for a day trip.

    Sportin’ my Chico bag in Deadvlei

  7. Electricity adaptor set – We’re traversing two continents and multiple countries, and each has their own plug for charging. This set is pretty small and has worked everywhere so far.
  8. Luggage locks – These little locks have given me piece of mind when we leave our stuff in a hostel locker as well as on the road. I feel like they are good deterrent for thieves. We even used them to lock the zippers of our tent a few times.
  9. Hiking boots – If you are an active traveler, good footwear is important! I wear my chacos every day and they were one of the best thing I brought to Africa, but we have also hiked a lot and my boots from home were best for this activity. Good footwear and selection can be hard to find in Africa. These were a gift from my mom before we left for Peace Corps service. Thanks, Mom!
  10. Toilet paper and antibacterial alcohol hand sanitizer – I have toilet paper stuffed in every pocket of my jackets, and I always have some in my purse. Most toilets here don’t provide tissue. You never know when you might want to wash your hands, and it’s not always easy to find running water and soap in the same place. It’s important to stay as clean as possible on the road so you don’t get sick and ruin travel days!

Best Luxury Items: How you travel is a personal decision, and many of the items we brought above might be considered very luxurious to some. But in addition to the above, I love and consider my travel yoga mat that I use many days to be a luxury item I’m glad I brought. Working out and doing yoga is important to me, and it’s nice to have a cushion to protect me from the sand or dirt. I also brought my Asus transformer laptop. It’s great for travel – small and light. It serves as my entertainment (Kindle) and I play all my workout videos on there. It also allows us to easily update the blog.

As a side note, I’d bring as much crisp, new U.S. dollars as you’re willing to travel with. I cannot believe how many places have taken U.S. dollars as payment and it has helped us quite a lot when we’ve run out of local currency (ATMs not working has unfortunately been common on our travels!!). Cash is king!

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Mokoro trip and birding in the Okavango Delta

okavango delta landscape

As Peace Corps Volunteers based in Rundu, Namibia, we lived for two years along the Kavango River which forms the border between Angola and Namibia for several hundred kilometers in the north of the country. We also had the chance to visit tourist lodges in the Divundu/Bagani area, a gorgeous stretch along the semi-tropical banks of the Kavango River. In this area about two hours east of Rundu, the river begins to curve south through a narrow strip of Namibia and then into Botswana before emptying out into the Kalahari Desert to form one of the largest inland deltas in the world. Before we left the U.S. to begin our service in July 2013, we watched a great documentary on the Okavango Delta and had it high on our list to visit.

Great egret

A great egret taking flight in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

After we finished our travels in Namibia, we flew from Windhoek, Namibia to Maun, Botswana. The delta supports agriculture mostly in the form of livestock and, like most rivers and lakes in Africa, thousands of people use the water the delta provides for drinking and washing. We stayed at Old Bridge Backpackers (a campsite costs about $7USD per person per night) along the southern end of the delta and about 10km from the town of Maun. They have resident pied kingfishers in the delta area just in front of the lodge, a very helpful staff and a decent self-catering kitchen area.

If we had to do it again, we probably would have done a multi-day kayak trip through the delta since we enjoy active tours. We still had a great time, basing ourselves at Old Bridge and enjoying a couple of day trips including a ride in a traditional canoe called a mokoro.

The video really sums up the three hour experience of gliding through the reeds in a beautiful channel of water. In the southern part of the delta, you find more domestic animals than wild ones, but it was still interesting to see donkeys up to their necks grazing in the water as we were poled along. We also saw many new species of birds including the elusive malachite kingfisher.

malachite kingfisher in the okavango delta

Malachite kingfisher. These small and colorful kingfishers are much easier to spot with the slow pace of a mokoro than with a motorboat.

malachite kingfisher in the okavango delta

Another photo of the malachite kingfisher. It is my favorite of the 155 species of birds that I have seen in southern Africa.

African fish eagle

African fish eagle. These impressive birds were very common in the delta. It seemed like we saw one every kilometer or so.

reed cormorant

Reed cormorant. Another very common bird in the delta.

saddle-billed stork

Saddle-billed stork. This bird has a very colorful long bill and legs.

spotted frog

This tiny spotted frog jumped into our mokoro at one point.

Okavango Delta lillypads

The water of the delta is very clear and the colors can be amazing.


Hamerkop. This bird was much better at posing for pictures than the one I saw previously in Chobe National Park.

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Namibia’s Quiver Tree Forest

quiver tree forest

As we prepared to leave Namibia after two years of service as Peace Corps Volunteers and then as tourists for two weeks, one of our final stops was the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop in south-central Namibia. This interesting desert landscape contains thousands of quiver trees, a distinctive species of aloe. The lodge and campground also provide a home for a few cheetahs that would have otherwise been killed for attacking livestock. Nearby the Quiver Tree Forest is an area called Giant’s Playground for all of the larger boulders that are stacked upon each other.


A good example of a mature quiver tree. A short walking trail through the trees is located next to the campground.


One of the rescue cheetahs waiting to be fed.


Lisa being the brave one and petting a cheetah at mealtime. She is a crazy cat lady and couldn’t resist. I offered to be the photographer.


One of the larger male cheetahs enjoying a dinner of raw rodent.




Acacia pied barbet


Rosy-faced lovebird


Giant’s playground


The quiver tree forest at sunset. After we watched the sun go down we had our final braai in Namibia.

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Images of Lüderitz


Lisa overlooking the town. We climbed up a rocky hill and had great views of the sunset.

In July, we spent four days in the Namibian coastal town of Lüderitz, an interesting mix of old colonial German architecture and a more modern port that is used mostly for mining transportation. One of the highlights was a boat tour to a nearby island where a colony of African penguins is now recovering from past guano-mining and human encroachment. It is a good success story for conservation efforts in Namibia. In the early 1900’s the penguins were nearly wiped out during extraction of their nutrient-rich guano which was shipped off for use as fertilizer. Unfortunately, this layer of guano on the cold and wind-swept island had acted as a safe place for the penguins to burrow and lay their eggs. Once the several meters of guano were removed, the population of penguins crashed. Recent conservation efforts have improved the penguin numbers to several thousand.

Other highlights included a drive along the coast to Diaz Point, one of the windiest places I have ever been! The seascape is craggy, with exposed rocks and some short sandy beaches. Flamingos and other waterbirds make their home along this stretch of coast, including the rare African Black Oystercatcher.

While in Lüderitz, we enjoyed the company of fellow Peace Corps Namibia Volunteer Janet who lives in town. She showed us around and joined us for the boat tour. Thanks, Janet!

We stayed at Element Riders Backpackers, a cozy and friendly place on a historic street in the middle of town. We also took a tour of Kolmanskop which we covered in a previous post.



Our drive to Lüderitz was spectacular, with the landscape of mountains, sand dunes and windswept plains. Wild horses roam just east of town.


African black oystercatcher

African black oystercatcher



African penguin



Cape gannet



The coast near Diaz Point



Flamingos near an abandoned ship in a bay just southwest of Lüderitz.



Colonial German architecture in the very hilly town of Lüderitz.



The still-active lighthouse at Diaz Point.



Looking through the fog at the colony of African penguins.


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Reflections on Service – My Peace Corps Elevator Speech

We are more than a month into our five month Close of Service trip, it’s hard to believe! As time always does, particularly on vacation, it is absolutely flying right now.

I haven’t still quite come to terms with the fact that our Peace Corps service is over. I think in part because we are still in Africa, it feels as if we will return to Namibia after this holiday is over. Things are different in all African countries, but some customs and mannerisms are common throughout the southern part of this continent that have made us still feel comfortable this last month.

We’ve met many travelers over the course of this month and they have many great stories to tell. Some are traveling for several months or indefinitely. It has been interesting to hear their observations of the different countries we have visited. However, it has driven home the fact for me that the Peace Corps experience, or living overseas is genuinely unique. Had I been just a traveler in Namibia, even for an extended period of time, my perception of the local people would have been different. It reminded me of just how much you get to know a place in two years, but also how much we still don’t know or understand about our host country once we leave.

It can be easy to make snap judgements when visiting a place for a short time. First impressions can be lasting ones. After living in Namibia for 2 years, I think about this now as we have only been traveling in Botswana and Malawi, not living here and part of the community. I realize my impressions on vacation here are probably very starry-eyed. It’s hard to get the full picture. 

Some travelers make the effort to get to know local people, but most are not invested in a community for an extended period of time like a Peace Corps volunteer. An afternoon hiking with a local person or a day at the beach playing soccer with village kids can give some perspective, but doesn’t give the same depth as working with the same people day in and day out for two years. While there is so much value in just traveling, you get a deeper experience staying somewhere for a long tome. I found great value in the deep connections that we made over a long period of time in Namibia. While Peace Corps service was at times difficult and frustrating, the other side is that some of the work was incredibly rewarding. Engaging with people and learning about a place like we did is something that I will carry with me forever.

At dinner the other night, a fellow traveler asked us to give our elevator speech about our Peace Corps experience. While questions like that are difficult to field (How DO you sum up two years of your life, in just 10 seconds?), it was a good one to be asked because I know once we get home, not everyone will want to listen to me talk about my Peace Corps experience for hours at a time. Most people want short sound bites and not lengthy explanations.

My gut reaction, the speak-to-think extrovert that I am, was to say, “It was really really hard but I’m really glad I did it.” But that doesn’t give much of an idea about my experience. Josh’s answer was more thoughtful on the fly, “You will be more impacted by the experience than the impact that you will make.” And I agree with that absolutely. As a Peace Corps volunteer you get the unique opportunity to really see what life is like instead of just a short glimpse. You don’t just hear about the loss of host country’s loved ones, you attend the funerals of those family members. You don’t just learn about how people observe holiday in their country, you go home with them and are a guest to see their customs up close. You don’t just hear about people’s love stories, you are in their weddings or attend them. You leave truly getting a rich experience, an idea of the bigger picture. The good and the bad.

It’s hard not to sound cliché, but right now I think my answer would be, “You’ll never see the world the same way again. It gives you a whole new perspective.” Gaining that perspective at times was a painful process, but during our travels this last month I have missed my Namibian friends, learners and colleagues very much. I think of them and their lives and all the challenges that they face on a daily basis. I’m so glad that their friendship has changed my world view, and that I get to call them friends and not just acquaintances.

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