Monthly Archives: May 2015

The dunes of Sossusvlei, Namibia

Sossusvlei dune

Looking towards the sunset from a dune in Sossusvlei. The circles in the middle of the image are called “fairy circles” and their origin is still being debated, but the leading theory is sand termite colonies beneath the soil

We visited Sossusvlei, located in west-central Namibia, in August 2014. The word Sossusvlei really refers to one specific clay pan in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, but it is used generally to describe the entire scenic desert area surrounding it. We heard it was a must-see destination in Namibia and our visit absolutely lived up to the high expectations. Towering red sand dunes, craggy mountains and a clear blue sky dominated our impressions of Sossusvlei. Even with a number of other visitors congregating at the popular sites, the vastness of the place imprinted itself in our minds. The area is perfect for quiet contemplation, solitude (just hike a short distance from the crowds to claim your own private sand dune) and photography. I wish I had a wide angle lens for this trip as the images below do not do it justice.

Sossusvlei dune 45

The view from the top of Dune 45, looking towards the sunrise.

Travel to Namibia, and to Sossusvlei in particular, has gotten much more international attention in recent years and while it has long been a popular destination for European travelers, more marketing has been done to get Namibia on the radar of American media outlets such as CNN and the New York Times (Namibia is ranked number six on their list of the top 52 places to visit). The deserts of Namibia also provided some of the filming locations for the new Mad Max movie.

Lisa at sossusvlei

Lisa descending from Dune 45. We climbed this high dune to catch the sunrise and enjoyed amazing 360 degree views.

Sossusvlei dunes

More views from the top of dune 45.

We booked a three day/two night camping option through Wild Dog Safaris. The total cost was about $340 per person and it was definitely worth it as they handled transport, park fees, all meals and the 4am wake up call to catch the sunrise. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and had previously worked on the anti-poaching unit in Etosha National Park and with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

We departed mid-morning from Windhoek and after a very long but scenic drive, we arrived in the early evening and barely had time to scramble up a dune to catch the sunset. The dune was close to the campground so after the colors on the horizon faded, we returned for a delicious dinner and helped the guides to finish setting up the tents. This was true “glamping” with mattresses and comforters provided.

The next day we got moving very early and climbed the very popular Dune 45 before dawn to catch the sunrise. After our climb, we drove on to another scenic spot and followed our guide on a few kilometer hike to deadvlei, which is one of the most photographed places in Namibia. We ended the day with a hike into Sesriem Canyon and watched the sunset from the top of the safari vehicle.

Sossusvlei dunes

The Sossusvlei desert landscape during our hike to deadvlei.

Sossusvlei dunes

The cracked clay earth looks almost like landscaping stones.

Sossusvlei sand

A pattern in the sand during our tour of the desert.

Another benefit to a tour group is the interesting mix of backgrounds and nationalities of your fellow travelers. Our group included a Scottish man and an Australian woman who live and work in Kenya; a family of three from another country in Europe (we can’t remember exactly where), a German woman living in Durban, South Africa and her friend visiting from Germany; a Frenchman who works in New York City part of the year and travels for the rest; a young man from London; and a young scientist from Denmark.

Deadvlei

Deadvlei, where the winds sweep the sands across the valley in between the high dunes, leaving the white clay floor and fossilized trees exposed.

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The view from the clay pan of deadvlei. Due to the extremely dry climate, these dead trees do not decompose and have been here for around 900 years. The color in this image has been altered slightly to give more of a sense of what the experience was actually like. The mid-day sun washed out most of the photos from this part of the trip.

Oryx in the desert

An solitary oryx in the desert near Sossusvlei.

It is also easy to rent a car in Windhoek and drive to the park. The road is mostly gravel, but it can be done in a 2WD vehicle in about six hours.

ostrich

My token bird photo for this post! An ostrich along the gravel road leading back to the campsite.

Sesriem Canyon shadows

The shadows of our tour group standing on the opposite rim of Sesriem Canyon. The narrow sandstone walls in some sections reminded us of the slot canyons of San Rafael Swell in Utah.

Sesriem Canyon

Enjoying the scenery near Sesriem Canyon at sunset.

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Learner of the Week – Metride Uupindi

Learner of the Week is given out in my class on Fridays based on the learner who had the best behavior, academic performance or just overall good citizenship that week.

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Metride Uupindi, Grade 8, 13 years old

Mother tongue/tribe: Vambo

What is your favourite thing about school?

It has a library.

Who lives with you at your house? What are some of the chores you have to do at home?

I live with my aunty. I clean the house, wash dishes, etc.

What would you like people in America to know about your country, Namibia?

Namibia is a very interesting country, there are deserts and many more.

What are some of your goals and dreams? What do you want to be when you grow up?

My goal is to study very hard to get good marks. I want to become a doctor one day.

What is your favourite thing about your culture and Namibia?

People are kind and there are swimming pools in certain places.

Who is your hero and why?

My hero is my aunt because she has always been there for me in good times and in bad.

What are some challenges you face, at school or at home?

At school it’s math but I will keep on going.

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The weather in Rundu, Namibia

What if someone told you that the weather at your Peace Corps site would be sunny with low humidity and with daytime temperatures in the 80’s°F (about 28°C) and nights in the 50’s°F (about 12°C)? Pretty perfect, right? That is one great benefit about being placed in Rundu in Kavango East region because that is the typical daily forecast in the winter months (May to August).

This is not to say that everything is perfect here in Rundu. The dry conditions mean that dust and sand are everywhere, and many people burn their trash and brush so often there is also a haze of smoke in the air.

Rundu weather 10 day forecast

The weather here in the dry season is very consistent!

In the summer, temperatures can often exceed 100°F (38°C) with the annual rainy season usually beginning in December and lasting until March. This year was very dry and many crops failed. The inconsistent rainfall we receive is one reason why Namibia has been primarily used for livestock in terms of agriculture.

During a normal rainy season, it might rain for a week straight at times. This weather pattern makes it difficult to do things like hang laundry to dry on our clothesline outside. The end of the rainy season can also get a little cold, especially now that we are used to a very warm climate. No one here has a heater, but we just bundle up a bit and by mid-morning the sun usually warms things up. Namibians consider a cloudy rainy day to be a beautiful day. Rain is needed for crops and provides a relief from the strong sun. 

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Reader of the Week – Gaseb Habakkuk, Grade 6

A few months ago on Facebook I posted a picture of this learner. He’s in grade 6 and checks out high school level books from our library. He always comes to the library with a great attitude and a smile on his face.

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Gaseb Habakkuk, Reader of the Week, Grade 6, 12 years old

Mother Tongue: Herero

What do you love about books?

They teach me a lot of things. They improve my knowledge and upgrade my brain with a lot of details. I love everything about books.

What is your favourite book or author and why?

My favourite book is the big physical science book at our school library because it teaches me about body parts, how to build mechanical things and gives me more information. My favourite author is Edward Teller.

What inspires or interests you to read books?

When I look at a book I see knowledge flowing through my brain. What interests me is when I read a specific book it makes me want to continue the whole book.

What kind of books do you like to read and why?

Science books, especially animal books. They inspire me to try new things and learn about new animals and see new things.

What are some of your goals and dreams?

My goal is to finish school and be an explorer or a lawyer. My dream is to be in a tough situation and make the best of it. I also want America to see Namibia as a place where smart kids are.

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The price of going out to eat in Namibia and a love letter to Kavango River Lodge <3

A big topic of conversation among Peace Corps Volunteers is food. We crave the “American” types of foods that we can’t get in our host country. We are eager for payday so we can splurge on chocolate and cheese. However, we have many more options for food than I expected.

In Namibia’s capital of Windhoek you can find almost any type of food. But we don’t get to visit the capital often as it’s an eight hour drive. The grocery stores in the capital offer many more spices and different ethnic foods.

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Enjoying a beer with our good friend, fellow PCV, and my female husband, JT, during PST. These large draft beers cost $N18 in Okahandja, or less than $2USD. Primarily only light beer without much flavor is available in Namibia. At a shebeen a “Forty” size beer is N$16, or about $1.60USD. The seedier the bar, the cheaper the beer.

The menus at many restaurants throughout the country are quite similar and often include steaks, burgers, fries, chicken and toasties (grilled cheese) as well as some traditional food. Many of the restaurants in Rundu are tourist lodges, but most of the travelers are Namibians here for business, so the food tends to be geared towards a Namibian palate. On a Peace Corps budget we eat in most nights, but we are able to make a variety of meals as more exotic ingredients such as olive oil, Indian spices, soy sauce and black beans can be found here in town. Other ingredients such as green curry, coconut oil or tortillas are available in Windhoek.

The take-away (to go) options at gas stations and small food stands tend to be chicken or meat with chips (french fries), meat pies or macaroni or pasta salad. Kapana, or grilled street meat, is also common. I will miss the french fries in Namibia a lot! They are salted and seasoned to perfection with vinegar and spices.

One of my local favorites is Hungry Lion, a South African chain. The fried chicken there is so tasty and I think superior to KFC’s fried chicken and chips (although Josh prefers KFC). The first KFC recently opened in Rundu (which they are calling Kavango Fried Chicken), and it is quite the status symbol to be able to eat there as the chicken is more expensive.  My friends and I try to go to Hungry Lion on Tuesdays because they offer TwoForTuesdays when it is buy one get one free.

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Two pieces of chicken and chips will cost you $N20, or about $2USD on TwoForTuesday. Yum.

The costs for meals and groceries can vary depending on what part of the country you are in and what is easily-grown or available, but on average going to a very nice place to eat will be around $N100-$N150, or about $10USD-$15USD a plate. Take-away is likely under $N30-40 or about $3USD-$4USD.

Alcohol is extremely CHEAP in Namibia. I’ve bought chocolate bars and cool-drinks (sodas) that cost more than a beer. Unfortunately, I think the inexpensive booze contributes to alcoholism in Namibia. People tend to either drink to excess, or they’re sworn it off completely because they’ve seen what it has done to friends and family.

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Every glass of wine served is a very full pour at Kavango River Lodge! This glass with the beautiful view of the river will cost you $N18, or about $1.80USD.

We can get pizza here! And it’s good! Omashare Lodge right up the street from our flat has a pretty extensive pizza menu.

PizzaOmashare

The delicisosa pizza available at Omashare. And boy is it delisciosa! It has minced meat, onions, mushrooms and cheese of course. This pizza cost $N105, or about $10USD.

Sundowners are very popular in Namibia and Southern Africa. I love them! You gather with friends and enjoy watching the sunset with a drink and/or food/braai. The sunsets in Namibia are very colorful and incredible. We’ve also been fortunate to view them from the river while on boat tours.

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View from a recent sundowner at Kavango River Lodge. Every one is different, every one spectacular!

In the coastal resort town of Swakopmund you can enjoy delicious sushi! Only in Swakop and Windhoek will you find sushi.

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This sushi meal plus 2 adult beverages cost us $27 USD or $N270. Quite the splurge but we’ve only had sushi a few times a year since moving here.

Coffee shops are not very common outside of Windhoek and Swakop. Here’s a photo of a cappuccino I got in Livingstone, Zambia at a cafe. It was heaven to enjoy this in a nice outdoor cafe. I really do miss coffee shops!

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This tasty cappuccino cost about $2USD. In Windhoek and Swakop the price is about the same for a fancy coffee beverage.

It’s important to note that while these temptations exist, the majority of people in Namibia cannot afford to go out to eat much, or at all. Many of my learners have told me that despite living near lodges or restaurants, they’ve never gone out to eat in one. Many colleagues who grew up in a village didn’t go out to eat until they were in college or professionals. As PCVs, we make only $N2,000/month, and spending N$100 on one meal can be a bit extravagant for our modest income.

At Kavango River Lodge near our flat, I have enjoyed what I consider to be one of the best meals in any country. I am obsessed with the amazing garlic prawns. I talk about them often. After one exceptional dinner, I asked to finally meet the chef. I wanted to praise her excellent work in person. I told her how if I had to pick a last meal of my life, these prawns would be on the list. I will miss this meal when we leave. During my conversation with the chef, I found out that I teach her daughter! She is a grade 8 learner of mine. Luckily she is one of my favorites, not a naughty learner. 😉  Rundu is very small.

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The most beautiful meal in all of Namibia, the prawns with chips at Kavango River Lodge. The prawns are topped with garlic and chili. The side is cheesy cauliflower. Some prawns are missing because I started eating so fast. This meal costs N$90 or about $9USD.

Going out to eat is one of my favorite parts of American life, but during service we have enjoyed getting into a habit of preparing most of our meals at home. It helps that we have a little more free time to spend making meals. I hope to do more of that when we are back in the U.S., and I know that my wallet and Mr. Money Mustache, a personal hero of ours, will thank me. : )

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Chapter 31 of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

At the end of last term, one group of learners decided to write instead of sing or draw about Charlie. They wrote Chapter 31 of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (there are 30 chapters in the book).

This chapter was written by my highest performing and best writer in grade 8. Some of the sophisticated vocabulary words were words my learners were tested on each week when we had spelling tests every Friday.

Chapter 31 of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Written by Caorline Tokwe. Ideas by Jeremiah, Genevive, Caroline, Gabriela, Christofina, Abigail K and Regina.

It didn’t take long for Charlie, his parents, grandparents, Mr. Wonka and the oompa loompas to adapt to the Chocolate Factory and call it home.

They had a very settled life and spent Christmas donating sweets and candy to the homeless. After Charlie turned 15 Grandma Georgina and Grandpa George had to live in an old age home. Grandpa Jo and Grandma Josephine were old too but they could still do a little work. Soon Mr. Wonka fell ill as well. Mr. and Mrs. Bucket opened a café called The Chocolate River where they sold the best and freshest chocolate from the river in the factory as well as Mr. Wonka’s famous chocolate bars.

Although life was splendid, there were times that Charlie feared that it would not be long before his beloved grandparents and the man he had learned to love and admire the most were soon to fade away.

All these thoughts made Charlie think about making a type of candy so wonderful that it could help old people regain their strength. Mr. Wonka was astounded by this idea but unfortunately could not live to see this magnificent invention start to shape. Mr. Wonka passed on not too long before Charlie began working on this. But before leaving the world, he gave Charlie the name for this candy – the Revitalizor Sweet.

Mr. Wonka was buried in a coffin made from the strongest and hardest type of candy. They had a great ceremony to honor his memory.

After months of working, Charlie had almost finished making Revitalizor. He just needed one more ingredient and this was only to be found on the Island of Red Leaves.

Charlie went to this mysterious island with two of his oompa loompas. Upon arrival it seemed like a peaceful place until they noticed a strange object swinging from the vines. Eventually Charlie noticed that it was a girl swinging.

Charlie was frightened, flabbergasted more than he had ever been. They exchanged greetings and explained his strange arrival to this weird island of isolation. The girl, Tygres, asked how she could accompany him on his journey.

Charlie explained what he was looking for and lucky for him she knew just where to find it. After Charlie took the quantity he needed, he felt like it was his responsibility to take this Tygres with him. He didn’t want to leave her with the tigers. After a few minutes of convincing she agreed to come with him.

The two oompa loompas, Charlie and Tygres went back to the Chocolate Factory. Charlie finished his invention which allowed for old people to regain their strength. After awhile Charlie and Tygres fell in love. Together they carried out many more successful inventions like sweets that make you fall asleep and many more. They lived happily ever after.

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Top ten best items we bought in Peace Corps Namibia

In previous posts, we highlighted the top items Josh and Lisa brought to Peace Corps Namibia. Namibia is developing rapidly, especially in the capital of Windhoek, and most anything can be purchased there including laptops, high end kitchen items and flat screen televisions. However, with a much smaller consumer market, non-consumable goods tend to be more expensive and sometimes even double the price. Our monthly salary of about US$185 does not allow for many extravagances since we are expected to live at the level of the people we serve. 

Josh with gear

Josh demonstrating the best purchases we have made in Namibia!

Here is a list of the top items we bought in Namibia that have improved our service:

  • Kettle to boil water – We probably use this more than any other item.
  • Fan – During the very hot summer nights, this makes sleeping a little easier. Also great to keep mosquitoes at bay.
  • Decent plastic cutting board – Paired with the knife we brought, this has made for much faster meal preparations.
  • Ray-Ben sunglasses – Only N$40 (or US$4) and has lasted me for nearly two years.
  • French press – Sold as a coffee plunger here. A fresh cup of strong coffee is a nice treat to get you going in the morning.
  • Nonstick pan – After wasting a half inch of hash browns that fused onto our original metal frying pan, we opted to buy a decent nonstick pan. This is used everyday at least once and is great for heating up leftovers since we are “not having a microwave.”
  • Shitenge shirt – A stylish birthday gift that Josh bought for himself. (Lisa has had some shitenges made into skirts.)
  • Handmade crafts as gifts for family and friends – We already took some of these back to the U.S. last May, but it is nice to support local crafters and these make truly unique gifts. Many of these crafts are made by the famous Kavango woodcarvers of our region.
  • Braai grill – This great innovation just requires one flip!
  • Plastic buckets – During our road trip around the U.S. before we left for Namibia, we met up with a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) in Portland, Oregon. He had a great observation about his service in Malawi, “I don’t know where Africa would be without plastic buckets.” We use large plastic basins for washing clothes, backpacks, ourselves, and a puppy.

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