Monthly Archives: April 2015

Top ten best gear items Josh brought for Peace Corps Namibia

I’m hoping this post can be helpful to people trying to figure out what to pack for Peace Corps Namibia or other countries in Southern Africa. Every site is different so these items may not be the same for everyone.

Unlocked iPhone 4s – Used everyday for SMS, voice calls, email, photos, etc. The drawback is that it could be a target for thieves, but I try not to have it out frequently in public. I haven’t had any issues in 21 months.

Laptop – A nine year old Dell running Ubuntu OS. I carry this clunker to work everyday. Very heavy and hard to do photo editing since the screen resolution is poor, but I just need to get two years out of it (at this point, three more months). I will leave it with a colleague or a local business owner at the end of my service. I use my computer everyday at work, but I would not recommend bringing an expensive laptop to Namibia. Colleagues have had their computers stolen or break here,  and the heat and dust are hard on electronics.

Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone backpack – This pack has seen all 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail, multiple Colorado and other Rocky Mountain backpacking trips, and now a trip to Africa. Going strong for ten years now!

  
REI Quarter Dome T3 tent – The camping options are great in Sourhern Africa and many lodges offer inexpensive camping at around $10USD a night per person. Right now we are camping in Livingstone, Zambia at Livingstone Backpackers. You can use the pool and other facilities at the lodges and most also have braai facilities so you can grill dinner. We also usually bring  our campstove or alcohol stove for making meals while camping.

Sea to Summit mummy liner – This is great on it’s own for camping in warm temperatures as it is basically like a lightweight sheet. Also nice in hostels and guesthouses if you question whether they changed the sheets from the last guest.

Crocs shoes – Lightweight and seems to keep out sand somehow. Easy to clean and fast drying. Very comfortable for work and for walking around town as well. The update to this style does not fit as well as my first pair but still great.

Canon EOS Rebel T3 SLR Camera – Entry level digital SLR camera for taking photos of Peace Corps projects and also for documenting the amazing scenery of Namibia. A telephoto lens is key for birding. I bought my first lens for $100 used and just had another replacement for a similar price brought over by friends.   

Kitchen knife – We use this everyday, and it is cheaper to bring a higher quality one than to buy a nice kitchen knife here. I like ours so much, I might take it back home!  

Big Agnes ground pad – Amazing comfort for camping. The seam on my first one failed, but I sent it back to them when returned to the US in May. They quickly mailed a new one to my parent’s address. The replacement was a nicer model than the one that failed, and my parents brought it to Namibia when they visited in December.

Sea to Summit pack towel – Small size, quick drying and useful even when Peace Corps puts you up in a guesthouse because there always seems to be a towel shortage.

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Our Peace Corps flat

When we learned we would be placed in Rundu, Namibia by Peace Corps, we were excited to see what our new home would be like. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long because our “shadowing” site was Rundu. Shadowing is a chance for Peace Corps trainees to get out into the field and observe and learn from currently-serving Peace Corps Volunteers.

Unlike everyone else in our group, we went for shadowing to the town where we would spend our service. I was happy because we got a sneak preview of our flat and also met with the colleagues with whom we would work for the next two years. In a great collaboration between our two host organizations, Noordgrens Secondary School supplied the flat where we would stay, and COSDEC Tukurenu provided housewares, a bed and some other furniture items. COSDEC trainees also painted the inside of the flat before we moved in as part of their practical training.

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The view outside from the door of our flat. The plants visible are a lonely basil plant on the left along with my attempts at landscaping that our puppy has mostly dug up by this point. The unfinished reed fence makes a great laundry line! Pigeons love to roost in the abandoned bus garage in the background.

Our flat was originally a bathhouse/locker room when the school was private and then was converted into teacher housing, so it is a bit quirky. The school did some work before we moved in to make the flat more livable like walling off a bedroom in what had been the living room area. They even put tile in the bathroom! The school also built a braai  (grill/barbecue) stand out of concrete that visible in the photo above.

You enter our flat through a metal gate and wooden door and then walk down a newly-partitioned hallway to our living room. Our guest bed makes it nice when we host other Peace Corps Volunteers and friends. This room is also known as our Peace Corps daughter’s bedroom. She is our most frequent guest.

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Our guest bed/day bed from Noordgrens and our other small sofa courtesy of COSDEC.

We have more furniture than most volunteers because of the combined host organization contributions. Once my replacement gets to site in mid-June, the COSDEC-owned furniture will be used to furnish their flat.

flat bedroom

Our bedroom is spacious and we even have matching nightstands! I took our mosquito net down to clean it and snapped this photo. Usually it is always hanging from the ceiling around our bed.

These photos were all taken with my wide-angle lens so the rooms look a bit bigger than they actually are. Still, our flat is a great size for two people, and we are lucky to have things like electricity and indoor plumbing! We do have to wash our clothes by hand and most of our windows don’t have screens so we have numerous insect visitors.  We also have had frogs in the toilet.

Peace Corps did provide us with a roll of lightweight screen for the windows, but the style of Namibian windows, with a latch inside and with windows that open out makes it impractical to install in the larger windows. We do use our screens on the bedroom windows and combined with our bed net and fan, we haven’t had too many issues with mosquitoes.

flat kitchen

Lisa welcomes you to our kitchen!

Many education and health volunteers in Namibia live in huts either with a family on a homestead or on the school/clinic grounds. You can have a situation where a volunteer has to fetch water from a borehole (well) but has wifi access in their hut. Everyone’s site is a bit different. Up until a week ago, we were the only “town” volunteers in Rundu without hot water, but thanks to some major renovations to the flat next door, we now can take warm showers! It is a nice treat for the last three months at site.

flat kitchen

Opposite view of our kitchen showing our water filter, stove and refrigerator. We struggled with an old fridge for six months before it finally died. It made us realize how much you actually don’t need to refrigerate (milk, butter, leftovers are fine for one day, etc.).

flat bathroom

Our bathroom with separate doors for the shower and toilet. The jerrycans under the sink are the back-up if we lose power and water, but luckily we have only had a day here and there without power (which eventually leads to the water also stopping) since we arrived.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Class Projects

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Drawing

The characters of Charlie drawn by my learners. Thanks to the folks back home for sending me crayons and markers – they were used for this project!

After I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my Grade 8 English Class, I divided the learners into groups and had them decide to either draw, write, sing or act out a part of Charlie. I was pretty impressed with the results. One group rapped, one wrote a new ending for the story, another group had the great drawing shown above, and three girls wrote their own song.

Here are the lyrics of the song in the video above.

The Charlie Song
By Selena Alagoa, Uasora Puje and Tessy Muremi

Whoever thought that he
would see Willy….
He made delicious things
to eat everyday

We never thought that
He would win the prize…
Little Charlie had always behaved…

(chorus)

Welcome to the Factory…
Ooo of Charlie (ooh)
Ooo Factory…

Welcome to the Factory…
Ooo of Charlie (ooh)
Ooo Factory…

Augustus Gloop
Veruca Salt
They never behaved
But little Charlie always kept quiet
Mike Teavee
The TV freak that never listens to his parents

We never thought it would
turn into one big mess

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Recycling when there is no recycling program. Part 2: aluminum cans

alcohol stove in action

Our power was out earlier today, so the alcohol stove came in very useful even in our relatively modern flat. The empty steel food cans are being used just as a tripod for the pot of water. As a disclaimer, the stoves should not be used in an enclosed space indoors, but we had windows open and used the alcohol can right on our stove top.

Due to the long distances between towns and the low overall population density, it is not cost-efficient to implement recycling programs in the far reaches of Namibia. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rundu, Kavango East Region, it was difficult to see all of the aluminum cans and other recyclables scattered in trash piles all over town, when there is such economic potential. In my first post on recycling, I highlighted some uses for glass bottles.

As a hiker and backpacker (trekker), I was familiar with alcohol stoves made from aluminum cans, but never tried one until our friend Ryan made one for us as a gift. His stove is featured in the photo above and, as Ryan is an engineer, it is pretty advanced for this genre of stoves. I was looking for a technique to make these can stoves not requiring as many materials or tools and found this great tutorial on YouTube.

alcohol can stove

Test run of the easy-to-make alcohol stove.

The other nice thing about the stoves in the YouTube video is that the pot can go directly on the stove itself so you don’t need a separate pot stand, but elevating it a bit would probably be more efficient. A windscreen is also definitely recommended for these types of stoves. I’m going to research making a windscreen out of aluminum cans cut into strips as shown below. I’m hoping to run a short course sometime next month at COSDEC to demonstrate how to make these stoves.

aluminum can rectangle

Aluminum can cut into a rectangle for potential use.

These can stoves are also great because the fuel is just denatured alcohol or methanol (sold sometimes as HEET), which is available all over the world in hardware stores, grocery stores or pharmacies. The fuel burns cleanly, especially if your stove is well-made and produces nice blue flames.

methylated-spirits

Here in Namibia, alcohol that can be used in these can stoves is sold as “methylated spirits.”

This Instructables link has an interesting idea to use aluminium can rectangles as roofing shingles. I’m not going to attempt aluminum smelting in my remaining time in Namibia, but I think it would really have potential especially since the molten aluminum can be cast in sand (of which there is plenty here). Here is an example of how to make an aluminum foundry. Here is another good post on how to cast a bowl out of molten aluminum.

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The Consistent Sadness of Loss and Funeral Customs in Namibia

In my less than two years of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia, I’ve already been to an equal number of funerals here in as in my first 32 years of life in the United States. My friend Hamutenya once told me “Here, we die a lot, my dear.” It is the very sad truth. Death is no stranger to the people of the Kavango Region. It feels like it’s always looming around the corner. Josh was working with a rural group to schedule a business training course, and they were trying to figure out a time to meet. He suggested Saturday morning, but the group said that time needed to be free to attend funerals.

Very unfortunately two of our fellow Peace Corps volunteers died during service as well. We were not close to either volunteer, but fellow volunteers are like family here. We all felt the deep loss. My dad passed away while I was here, and our good friend Bill lost his daughter during his service. Grieving overseas was challenging for me, but living in an environment where death is just as much a part of life also gave me new perspective. Most of my learners only have one living parent and they are 20 years younger than me.

Aside from attending funerals myself, I have heard about so many friends of friends that have passed away. The reasons are many: HIV/AIDS, traffic accidents, meningitis, Tuberculosis, eaten by crocodiles, drowning, heart disease, cancer, malaria, and the list goes on. Poor medical care, poor nutrition and poor preventative care are among many reasons why people are taken too quickly from us.

My friend’s colleague passed away earlier this year. Her mother had seven children, now only three are alive. A good friend’s friend died from a traffic accident last week. Their mother buried another son two years ago, and has now only one remaining living child.

My friend and colleagues’ sister (40 years old) passed and left two small children. There was a lot of debate in the family as to who would take the child- The father or the mother’s family. The mother’s family felt strongly the baby needed to be raised by one of her aunties at least for the next year or two (she was only four months old).

At that funeral I felt such pain for my friend as her fiancé’s was not able to attend the service. It was because he was attending the funeral of his cousin.

Namibians understand that death is just a part of life. It is mentioned often in Morning Prayer before our staff meetings start, and prayers in general. It appears to me that Namibians think about heaven a lot, and it gives them great comfort to know God will take such great care of them and their loved ones when this life is over.

I admire their acceptance of death. As an American I always found myself asking my friends “But how, why, what was the cause??” We always need to have an explanation. Namibians aren’t searching for answers as to why the death took place. It appears to me that they begin accepting the new reality soon after it happens.

In town I see adverts everywhere for funeral insurance. It’s very common for people who are working and able to prepare for their death do so from the time they start working. Just like at home, funerals aren’t necessarily cheap. Aside from a coffin, after the late is buried everyone goes back to the family’s house for a meal. When my good friend’s brother died, there were at least 300 people who came back to the house.

It is truly remarkable here how people come together to help when someone passes. Aunties come and begin cooking. Families journey from very far away to mourn with one another. Work colleagues and families come together to collect money and give monetary gifts to help pay for the funeral and its expenses. It used to be custom to get two weeks off for a burial, but now the custom is one week off work. For an immediate family member, it’s not uncommon if someone misses work for an extended period of time, especially if they have to travel far to attend the services.

There is typically a memorial the night before the funeral. The memorial we went to was on a Friday night and lasted four hours. At the memorial people share stories about the deceased. Like back home, people find comfort in sharing. The funeral started at six the next morning and lasted until noon.

Here are some of the customs of the burials I’ve seen at the funerals I’ve attended in Namibia that are different from our own. There are many things that are the same. Each tribe has its own traditions, but I am combining all of them below (It’s hard to remember which tribe does which):

  • When a baby (years 0-3) dies, it is not the same kind of loss we experience at home. Someone buries the baby with no funeral or commemoration, etc. Often times the mother doesn’t know where the baby is buried, she is not part of the process. They see it as the child did not have a chance to really grow up to be someone to mourn. At home, this is considered one of the most tragic deaths of all.
  • No one touches the deceased’s clothing (giving it away, etc.) until he or she has been gone for a year.
  • The term “the late” is very common here.
  • To commemorate the life of the deceased, t-shirts are made and people wear them at the funeral but also afterward, as a reminder of this person who was important to them. The t-shirt usually has the late’s photo on it.
  • The night before the funeral, the body of the deceased will be in his or her family’s home, and the immediate family will stay up all night singing. This happens for weddings too.
  • You have to be careful who you hire to help you bury someone because it’s not uncommon for a coffin to be dug up and stolen to be used for another funeral.
  • Before my friend’s sisters’ funeral, they baptized her deceased sister’s baby. It was strange to me, but also meaningful. It was as if her mother was able to be there for this important day in her life.
  • At home after everyone leaves the gravesite the casket is lowered into the ground. Here, everyone watches the casket being lowered into the ground. Watching my friend’s sister’s niece – she’s 8 years old- staring as her mother was lowered into the ground – is an image in my mind that I’ll never forget.
  • It is the family members and friends who take their shovels or hands and put the dirt on the deceased/their coffin when they are burying them. Not someone from the funeral service.
  • Closed caskets are most common.
  • People typically get buried at the village from which they come. In our town of Rundu, there are many different tribes and people from all over. The graves in our town are divided into sections. Depending on your tribe is where you’ll be buried. There’s a section for Angolans, Vambos, Kavangos, etc. In the village families (sisters, brothers, etc) are buried near one another.
  • Work colleagues and friends visit the entire week at the home before the burial. They greet the family of the deceased and sit with them. Similar to the quote I remember in the sweet movie Lars and the Real Girl when his mannequin girlfriend dies and he asks his neighbors what they are doing there. “We are here to sit. At times like these, we just sit with one another.” Sitting, hugging and being in someone’s presence can be a powerful thing when dealing with unbearable loss.

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Exercise and Yoga during Peace Corps Service in Namibia

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My outdoor yoga studio in Namibia

I started practicing yoga in 2009. My best friend Laura got really into Bikram Yoga and kept telling me all the wonderful benefits of yoga, so eventually I decided to give it a go. I’ve practicing for 6 years now. I go through phases where I’m doing yoga many days a week and then sometimes not often. In Namibia I practice on average one day a week. It is a great way to de-stress.

Josh and I began showing Namibians our love of yoga at our host family in Okahandja for our 2 months of training. We would do yoga with the kids on the porch. We called our style of yoga “Shusk-tanga.” Patent pending.

Our host family loved it. It was a nice way for us to bond with them. We saw the 3 year old from our host family in Okahandja over Christmas Holiday and she still remembers “Downward Dog.”

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After a yoga session with our host family, another PCV and other neighbors in our neighborhood called “Smarties”

I then brought yoga with me to our site and my school. I did it once with the Girls Club and many girls enjoyed it so much they wanted to keep doing it together. When I am free on the weekends, I’ll put together a Saturday morning yoga session. It’s been a fun way to share something I enjoy and am passionate about.

I always enjoy hearing everyone in my class say “Miss! I feel so good!” after a class is over. I am not a trained teacher myself but I have done it long enough to give people the basics. I usually put a yoga dvd on halfway through class to let the experts tell us when to breathe in and out, etc.

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Saturday morning yoga with some of my learners

The website yogadownload.com offers a free membership for PCVs. It really makes yoga more accessible and introduces people all over the world to new styles of yoga. It’s a great way to keep your yoga routine fresh.

Workout videos and running have also been a great way to help cope with stress here. If you’re a person who likes to turn their headphones on and ignore the rest of the world when running, well then running in Namibia might not be for you. On days when I’m feeling social I’ll go run in town and on the sandy paths and greet people as I go by.

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Seeing the Kavango River as you run by isn’t a bad way to spend 30-45 minutes. Running and excercize in general really isn’t a popular thing here (most want to save their calories) so this white lady gets some funny looks, but it’s a fun atmosphere on the walking path near our flat. I see ladies carrying baskets on their heads, men walking home from work, feral dogs who want to bite me and little kids playing with one another.

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Three months to go!

Our Peace Corps Service in Namibia has now entered its final three months with our Close of Service date scheduled to be July 17. It is hard to believe time has gone so fast. We would normally be departing in September, but due to changes in Peace Corps Namibia intakes to combine Health and CED (Community Economic Development) volunteers, most of the CED volunteers from Group 38 get to depart two months early.

kavango river sunset

We will miss sharing sunsets and sun-downers with our friends at Kavango River Lodge. This view is just a short walk from our flat.

We are looking forward to traveling and returning to all of the comforts of life in a developed country, but we are sad to leave friends and colleagues behind (as well as the animals of Rundu). You may have noticed that we have been much better bloggers lately. We realize that time is against us and have been working hard to try to capture as many highlights and activities as possible to share a record of our experiences here.

josh with trainee

A COSDEC trainee from my latest entrepreneurship class. I’ll miss this guy!

It is a good time to reflect back on more than a year-and-a-half of service and figure out some of our post-Peace Corps plans, which includes a pretty big trip around Africa and Southeast Asia! It has been a challenging two years for us personally as well as for the greater Peace Corps Namibia community. Two volunteers died during our service here, which is very tragic for their families and rare for a post to have to face.

I definitely learned a good deal about a very different culture and business environment. Personally, it has given me the courage to start my own business someday soon, since I have worked with Namibians who lack basic business knowledge and who have to work through much more adversity than I would with all of my resources in the U.S. They are able to start businesses and make them succeed in a place where 50% of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

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