Tag Archives: Peace Corp Namibia

Best Memories, Moments and Lessons of my Peace Corps Experience, Numbers 4 and 5

This last week I haven’t gone a day without crying as I slowly come to terms with the fact that our time here is about up. Last night was our goodbye braai and it was an incredibly special night to remember with thoughtful speeches and dancing.I’m down to 5 remaining memories, moments and lessons of my Peace Corps experience that I want to share. Please excuse any grammar errors as I am short on time and sleep. : )

#5 – Fulfilling Goal #3 – Sharing this journey with friends and family back home

There are three goals of the Peace Corps and our third goal is to share your experience and what your host country is like with friends and family back home. I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for being part of this incredible ride with us. How fun it has been for me to text you, blog, and share via FB about life here and catch up on news back home. Our interactions have meant a lot to me. On days when I was feeling low, you don’t know how fun it was to see messages from you on text, email or Facebook. You laughed with me, you were puzzled with me, you sympathized with me. Thank you.

Many of you went beyond just keeping up with us. Many of you sent us love in the mail. THANK YOU FOR THE BOOKS YOU SENT, especially Beth and Ziggy Cooper. You helped fill up our library. Thank you to those of you that sent packages, cards, words of encouragement. We really appreciate them all. Please know that all your gifts were used in our community and spread throughout. I shared the food you sent with friends and staff, I gave away the gifts you sent as prizes to my top learners and I used your school supplies in my class.

A huge thank you to those of you that visited. We are so lucky to call you friends and now we have many fun stories to enrich our already great friendship. We really enjoyed sharing our experience with you in person in Africa.

So many of you have been here with us when we would hear certain songs on the radio, saw signs that reminded us of you, met people with your same name, etc. Gentle reminders of home always made us smile. I know when we go home there will be many things that remind us of people and places in Namibia.

According to our blog stats (which I’m obsessed with) we had over 2,000 visitors to the blog this year alone! I hope you learned a bit about this beautiful place we’ve called home for the last 2 years. Now what you’ve seen from us these last 2 years is just that – two people’s perspective. It’s hard to capture all the heart, complications, spirit, frustrations and challenges of a nation in just 2 years of living and observing.

Taking you all on this journey with us has been one of the best parts. It took a big support network to get us to this point, and I thank you all for being interested in our journey.

#4 The NamFam and PCV friends

The fourth reason this journey has been so enriching and fulfilling has been sharing it with other Americans. Other PCVs are fascinating people. They’re fun, curious, innovative, crafty and just all around good people. PC tends to attract strong personalities.

When we first found out we were placed in Namibia, I found some Namibia RPCVs online and they said to us “Welcome to the NamFam!’ Peace Corps volunteers in Namibia refer to ourselves as the NamFam or NAMily.

More so than ever in my life, I’ve been part of this Peace Corps community that helps one another out often. We have to do things for each other because our transportation is limited and things don’t work the same in Namibia as they do at home. We pick up items for one another when we go to the capital or home to America to visit, we share lesson plans and we do errands for one another. I’ve never done so many favors for people, and I’ve never had so many people do favors for me.

We took the whole NAMily concept to another level when we became Peace Corps parents. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but Josh began referring to our fellow PCV Mary Grace as my little friend during PST, despite the fact that Mary Grace is eight inches taller than me. She is, however, 10 years and 15 years younger than Josh and I, respectively, so we started to take on a bit of a parental role with her once we heard she was being placed in a village not too far from our town. I believe Josh one day said “I feel like Mary Grace is like our daughter” and since Mary Grace seemed agreeable to having Peace Corps parents, our first Peace Corps daughter was born. Mary Grace calls us Onane and Otate (Mom and Dad in Rukwangali) and we simply call her “Daughter.”

I highly suggest to anyone on the fence about parenting to begin with a 22+ year old who lives in a village. They are fully functioning independent adults who are overjoyed when you feed them some cheese and salad. It has made my job so easy.

Mary Grace is one of the most considerate and thorough people I know. She helped me pass Rukwangali during our Pre-Service Training, and she has been a source of sanity for me while trying to navigate the difficulties of teaching in Namibia. She has had an extra level of environmental challenges living in a village during Peace Corps, and I’ve learned that she is one tough girl.  Knowing how hard she works motivates me to work harder.

Mary Grace is so smart, thoughtful, humble, motivated and fun. Even though I am her Onane, I learn so much from her, and she keeps us hip by letting us know the things that the young kids are into these days. We have shared some of our happiest and toughest Peace Corps memories together.

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Late night dance party in Rundu with our Peace Corps Daughter

Soon after Mary Grace came along others asked to join our NAMily and we agreed. Our other group 38 daughter Alyssa lives in the Erongo region of Namibia and we had two other Kavango children whose service was over in September of last year (group 36).

Also a part of our NamFam is JT, my female husband. She says things Josh would say when Josh isn’t around. She is our sister, and Mary Grace’s aunt. JT also lives in the same town as us, so we see one another quite a bit. We’ve collaborated on some projects together and when I had a bad day at school, I know I could count on JT to be up for a glass of wine at our place or Kavango River Lodge.

JT is a whiz at project management. I can hardly believe how much she can manage in her life, and this often includes reminding me of reports due to Peace Corps as well as making the most delicious hummus and salsa in Namibia (with her immersion blender she bought in Swakop which she’ll tell you for hours is the best purchase she made). She has been through some of the toughest personal challenges of anyone I know, and despite it all, is one of the most optimistic people I know. I know after I’ve hung out with JT that I’ll have sore cheeks from laughing and feel rejuvenated about life.

I admire the way she has truly integrated into our Rundu community. For the reasons I rely on her, I wish I could be like her. She is always well-oriented wherever she is, she is always on top of her game. She is honest when it isn’t easy, and she reads the census for fun.

JT was there when I found out the news that my Dad died, and she hugged me and got me through that traumatic time just as much as Josh did. When I was back in America during that time, doubting if Namibia was where we should return, I heard from her daily that she missed us, and things weren’t the same without us.  If I didn’t feel confident about having a good enough support network to come back to here, I don’t know if we would have come back. I’m so grateful we did come back to finish our service, and having people to support me and understand how difficult that was made all the difference. I am so glad we come back to finish our service.

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Getting a ride in an uncomfortable, slow car in Namibia. A common mode of transport.

When we had to leave the country for my dad’s funeral and my brother’s wedding, our NamFam put our minds at ease with taking care of things for us on the homefront.

So many of our weekends have been filled with great conversations, intense workouts, chocolate and wine with these two amazing women. They have been my rocks on bad days, our support system and a laugh when we need it. They’ve helped me work through cultural frustrations and sad anniversaries. We have camped together, hitch hiked, celebrated, brainstormed and collaborated.

They truly feel like family to us, and it is going to be a pretty big adjustment not texting one another 50-100 times a day. I’m going to miss these two like crazy.

I didn’t come to Peace Corps expecting to leave with great American friends, but I am so grateful we crossed paths.  As much as it’s sad to leave, I remind myself of how lucky I am we ever met. I look forward to hanging out in the USA or somewhere else in the world to laugh and remember the good stories of our time together as Americans in Namibia.

 

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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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Bushman Honey Project

Bushman Honey jar

This label was designed by a foreign tourist who met David and wanted to help the group. Upon returning home, this individual designed, printed and shipped 1,000 of these labels to the project to assist with their marketing efforts.

I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer based in Rundu, Namibia, a town of about 70,000, so it is always nice when I have the chance to see rural Kavango Region. Last November, I traveled with my colleague to Omega, which is far into Kavango East, near the border with Zambezi Region and about 250km from Rundu.

The history of Omega is interesting.  After independence and the creation of Bwabwata National Park, the San people (also known as Bushman) who were traditionally nomadic in the park area were forced to relocate to the army base which had just been closed. Families were assigned to former soldier barracks and there were some amenities for the community like a large hall that served as a youth centre, etc.

Over time, the infrastructure has deteriorated. There is a pronounced lack of care of the residences combined with poor maintenance of community areas. There are 14 shebeens in the small community and alcoholism is a big problem.

One group that is trying to break out of this cycle of poverty and start an income-generating activity is Bushman Honey, led by community activist David Musavanga. They have been working since 2006 to establish a profitable business based on the traditional San practice of locating wild swarms of bees and gathering honey. Several community members attended a government-sponsored beekeeping training, but David is the only one who has continued to follow through to bring this source of jobs and income to Omega.

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The Bushman Honey Project. From left: my COSDEC counterpart Toive Pessa, David Musavanga, and the other members of the group.

Over the course of five days, my counterpart and I conducted an assessment of the group’s needs and challenges and trained group members in basic business skills. They were enthusiastic and welcoming of this new information and for the first time, they were able to make financial projections regarding their project. They had just received a major grant through the Regional Council which allowed them to build a fence and a water tank to support the establishment of a garden, which will be used as another way to generate income and also to keep the bees at the site, since the lack of food in the winter months causes the bees to migrate and new swarms must be captured the following year.

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Group member Rambo (he had already heard all of the Rambo movie jokes) practicing costing and pricing.

The Bushman Honey production process

  • A project member locates a bee hive in a tree or a local community member informs the group.
  • Two project members in bee suits use smokers to calm the bees and then locate the queen at the centre of the hive.
  • The queen is captured and carefully placed in a specially designed matchbox.
  • The matchbox with the queen is placed in the bee box and the colony of bees eventually moves into the hive.
  • The box is taken (usually by foot) back to the project site where it is hoped that the bees will adapt to the new environment.
  • They conduct weekly bee box inspections until the bees adapt to the new environment and start to produce honey (this takes several months).
  • A queen excluder is used to keep fertilized honeycombs out of the top boxes which are used to produce the honey.
  • After enough honey is produced, they remove the frames with the honey combs and use a hand-cranked machine to extract the honey.
  • The honey is filtered with a sieve and put in the sun for 2-3 hours (to age I think).
  • The honey is then jarred with labels that were designed, printed and shipped to them by a tourist who was interested in helping the project.
  • Their customers are locals, tourists and some jars are mailed to customers in Namibia.
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The group members cleared this large field for planting, but lack the training and equipment to properly farm a plot this size. A bee box is waiting for this year’s swarms.

Omega housing

This is a former army barracks in Omega that now provides housing for community members. Each family is in one house. Walking around the town reminded me of the wild west, just with shebeens instead of saloons.

Flamingo tuck shop

Well I didn’t see any flamingos in Omega, but like everywhere in Namibia, there sure is a lot of sand.

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Also while in Omega, I got the chance to watch my first netball game!

We made a follow-up visit to Omega recently, and the group captured their first wild bee swarm of the year. They are also planning a small-scale garden and have planted some fruit trees to support their project. Project members know an impressive amount about beekeeping, they just lack training in business development skills. I hope that in coming years a Peace Corps Volunteer could be placed in Omega to better support this motivated group and help to develop other much needed small businesses in the area.

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Learner of the Week – Klaudia David

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Klaudia David, 16 years old, grade 8

What is your tribe/mother tongue?

Oshiwambo

What is your favourite thing about school?

I like to read, learn and write.

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

My sister. I always clean the house.

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

My country is beautiful.

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

I want to be a good person. I want to become a teacher.

What is your favourite thing about your culture and Namibia?

Anything you could want is here. I also love my Oshiwambo culture group.

Who is your hero and why?

My mother because she can take care of me and she gives me things I need.

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