Last week we gathered with our Peace Corps group for the very last time. We shared stories, ate delicious large meals and talked about our excitement, sadness and anxiety concerning our imminent departure. We got back to our home in Rundu on Saturday, celebrated July 4th with some friends and then reality set in – the end is very near. 😦 We are scrambling to finish our lengthy to-do list and spend quality time with our Namibian friends and family as we close this chapter of our lives. We leave our site on July 14th to head to the capital for more medical tests and exit paperwork. Our last day as PCVs will be July 17th.
Continuing with my list, here are numbers 6-9 of the best memories, moments and lessons of my Peace Corps experience. Numbers 1-5 to follow in the next week. You can find 10-18 here.
#6 Getting better at saying No and disagreeing with people
Saying “no” has never been really comfortable for me. In Namibia I was forced to learn to say no to people. I couldn’t possibly help everyone who asked and I couldn’t possibly give everyone what they asked of me.
Living in a different culture (or sometimes your own!) you find there are many differences you have with people and you learn to become more comfortable with saying, “I believe in something different.” I’m glad I had a chance to live overseas this long and see for myself what I like about America’s values and what I don’t. For example, Namibia is still a country that is figuring out where its cultural gender norms lie. Speaking out at times to say that women shouldn’t be expected to be the sole cook or childcare giver in a household could often make me an outlier. Lucky for me I was usually with Josh and he could share his same sentiments which were often the most shocking to hear since he is a man.
It may sound trite, but I’ve worked hard on saying No when I really felt like it, and disagreeing with someone when they say something I don’t agree with.
#7 Cute babies, kids and our pets
In the U.S. I didn’t really interact with babies and kids as much as I do in Namibia. I have very fond memories of spending time with babies and kids here. Dancing with our host family’s kids in Okahandja, playing duck-duck-goose with the little kids at my school’s Kid’s Day, making faces at little kids on long combi rides, reading weekly to the primary children at our school and scaring little babies in the village with our white skin.
We tried to resist it all these years, but we became animal lovers in Namibia. They’ve helped make our time special. After a tough day, these furry faces really helped cheer us up.#8 Appreciating life more because death is so close here. Learning to slow down and not sweat the small stuff.
I’ll never forget when I heard about a baby dying and someone’s response was, “Well, at least they won’t have to suffer here on earth.” The child died from malaria I believe, not a long term illness. At home, we would struggle to think of anything positive in response to the death of a child. Many struggle in Namibia to provide enough food for their family. Suffering and extreme poverty make you see the world very differently. I’ve known children to pass away here as well as people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Most learners at my school only have one living or active parent. Being closer to death makes you appreciate daily life and big milestones even more.
#9 Growing a deep appreciation for all the opportunities and life I had growing up in America
Where we are from is a big part of who we are, but where we’ve been also defines us.
In America, if you want to become better at soccer? There’s camp for that. Interested in learning piano? Take some lessons. Bored? Go to a park or play with a toy. The opportunities we are given to develop ourselves in America are never-ending. At times it’s hard not to get down thinking about some of the talented people in Namibia who won’t have the resources to develop and grow to their full potential.
Children in America don’t have to worry about as many diseases, and it’s not likely you will know many people who have died before you turn five years old. Such is not the case here.
At home, learners get textbooks, a chair to sit in and a clean environment in which to learn. American kids have easy access to technology and books in local libraries. All Americans have access to clean water and most families have a giant cupboard overflowing with food. I never had to go to school or bed with an empty stomach.
As a woman at home I knew my rights and that a man had no right to touch me inappropriately. There are laws against it in Namibia, but it’s still common for minor girls to be coerced into having sex with older men. They often do this because the men will give them money for food, clothes, school fees and other things. Namibian women are fighting a long, hard battle.
Corruption is found in every country, but I have seen it happen much more often here than I am accustomed to. Almost everyday, the newspapers report another story about corruption in the government. There’s corruption and nepotism in schools. There’s less of a system of meritocracy here.
While there are some things I would like to change about America, serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer abroad has taught me to be an even more grateful person for where I was born. I had so many advantages given to me simply by growing up in the United States.