Tag Archives: Top 30 of Peace Corps Namibia

The Top 3 Memories, Moments and Lessons of my Peace Corps Service

Yesterday we officially closed service! Our two years of Peace Corps service is now complete. It is a surreal feeling no longer being a Peace Corps Volunteer. We begin our COS trip by taking a 10 day vacation in Southern Namibia and then we go to Bostwana next.

I am down to the final three best memories, moments and lessons of my Peace Corps service. My last three points all have to do with people. Before we began this journey any Returned Peace Corps Volunteers we met shared that the people were the best part of their Peace Corps experience, and mine has been no exception.

#1 Josh

It was not difficult for me to come up with the #1 best memories, moments and lessons of this entire experience. Hands down, the best part of this experience has been sharing it with my very best friend.

Josh and I have had some of our best times and some of our worst times here in Namibia. Going through such a rich experience has brought us closer together. I can’t imagine having gone through this experience without Josh.

We worked as a team at home and here we did too, but we had to learn the new role each of us had to play. Problems arose here that didn’t at home, and together we came up with solutions.

We had picnics in the back of bakkies, we shared safaris together and we celebrated hot showers during holiday. We discussed the things that puzzled us about our host country and home country and formulated strong opinions on both.

I’ll always think of the 5k race we ran together in Rundu when I think of our Peace Corps service. At times we ran together, at times we needed to go on our own, but always, we could see each other, and we were cheering one another on. When the going got tough, we kept going.  In the end, we crossed the finish line together. Our Peace Corps experience was very much the same.

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Josh and I before the Rundu 5k

I have grown to appreciate Josh even more since being here. Living in a society where women are not treated equally, I value so much that my husband treats me as his equal.

“Happiness is only real when shared.” I don’t know if that is entirely true, but happiness certainly feels exponentially more fun to share it with your life partner. Only 7% of volunteers are married couples and I’m happy and proud to be in the 7%.

When the difficult task of reintegration begins, I know I’ll have Josh by my side to help navigate the murky waters. I’m so glad I get to take the best part of my Peace Corps service home with me.

#2 My Namibian Friends and Family

When you’re a stranger in a strange land, you hope and pray that you’ll meet some people in your host country who will want to make friends with you, the foreign weirdo. Lucky for me, I met some people who weren’t shy to make friends with this weirdo.

There are so many Namibians that we grew close to so it’s hard to single out people, but a few stand out for my service. My life is much richer for knowing these great Namibians and their families.

Our host family was so gracious in opening their home to us two years ago. They had never hosted Americans before and made us feel at home. We have wonderful memories of hanging out with them and their kids after long training days.

My friend Tanya is Portuguese-Namibian and I met her my first week at site. She has a heart of gold. She is the sole care taker for so many dogs and cats in Rundu. We’ve spent many great nights with her and her fiancé at Kavango River Lodge, out in Divundu and at braais in Rundu. We collaborated on projects to try and help my school to improve. I’m going to miss seeing her a lot.

Some women have grown up on different continents, with very different backgrounds and different skin color. They may appear to have nothing in common, but inside, their souls line up and speak the same language. Such is the case with my Namibian friends and colleagues Eve, Namkasa, Lucy and Hamutenya.  Our friendship was instant and real.

As Americans we see images of women in Africa on our tv screens and we begin to develop this idea in our head of the “strong, African woman.” At least I did. I have been so lucky to get to know four very strong Namibian African women.

My days and weeks these 2 years in Rundu were filled with great conversations with these women at Hungry Lion, my kitchen, Hamutenya’s house and lodges. Collectively these women have gone through some incredibly tough stuff and always manage to find the bright side of things. My friends are always striving to be better people.  They always want to learn.

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No Rico’s! Me with Eve, Hamutenya, Namakasa and Lucy

These ladies were the ones who checked on me to make sure I arrived places safely when I traveled, they were the ones who hugged me when I cried. They showed up at our flat with food to share in my grief when I returned from the USA to attend my dad’s funeral. They texted me when I was home in the USA and told me they missed me and wanted me to come back. They were a big reason I did. They were the ones who shared special American and Namibian holidays with me. They have been my family for 2 years and I am most sad to leave Namibia because it means I am leaving them.

Words do little justice to show my appreciation and gratefulness to all of them for being kind and for befriending this weird foreigner. When I didn’t know the right thing to do in a cultural setting, they guided me to make sure I didn’t offend anyone. When I didn’t understand something about Namibian culture, they gave me answers. It’s not easy to hear your culture or ways of doing things being questioned by an outsider, but they did it with such ease.

I know in my heart that our friendship isn’t restricted to geographical place, but I am so sad that I won’t be seeing them every day anymore. Even though our friendship will evolve, it will never be quite the same.

I will always, always remember the beautiful moments with these women. I know this is just the beginning of our friendship, and what a beautiful beginning it has been.

The two quotes I keep thinking of are “I am a part of all that I have met.” and “You’ll never feel at home again because you’ve loved people all over the world.” These women are with me forever. They give me a reason to smile wide when I think about Namibia.

#3 My Learners

Peace Corps is a weird thing. From the first Day I’ve arrived, people have asked when I was leaving. They know your time with them is limited.

“Miss, why don’t you just stay?’

I’ve been fielding this question for the last 6 months. It’s a hard question to answer.  We could stay longer – PCVs can extend their service for a year if wanted. And why not? I’ve got friends here, I’ve got a job. Why don’t I just stay? I usually tell them my mother wants me to come home. Wouldn’t your mother want you back home after being gone for 2 years? While that excuse is partly true, it makes people laugh instead of watching me fill up with tears. Needless to say, it’s hard to leave.

My learners surprised me. Every day. In good ways and bad. Upon arrival, I was so surprised with how much they knew about America. On some topics, more than me! On the contrary, I know most Americans (myself in 2012 included) couldn’t find Namibia on a map.

On good days we could appreciate our differences. On bad days our differences made us angry at one another.

My learners are good at languages. I am not. My learners are good at sharing. I wasn’t when I first got here – I’m much better now. My learners are good at inconsistency.  I am not. My learners are good at being flexible and forgiving.

I know some I will always keep in touch with.  Many inspired me. The ones who worked hard motivated me to wake up every day and try to teach them everything I could for the year I was their teacher. In some I saw small improvements, in some I saw absolutely none.

On any given day, my learners made me incredibly angry, depressed, sad, happy, fulfilled. A fellow PCV asked a group of us PCV teachers scattered throughout the country to describe our learners. Here were the adjectives given: Helpful, respectful, reserved, motivated, unfocused, loving, confused, surprising, talkative, angry, eager, thoughtful, aggressive, emotionally stunted, confused, eager, sweet, mischievous, distracted, earnest, generally teenagery, some are angels, some are stones, reserved, passive and submissive, easy-to-please, determined but easily distracted (and/or hungry/tired). As you can see, it’s hard to sum them up. I know kids in the USA probably have similar qualities.

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With my Library Prefects

Reading my learners essays was tough these two years, and a way for me to get a real glimpse into what issues they were dealing with. My kids had to deal with a lot more hardship in their life than I ever had to deal with. Early marriage, HIV/AIDS, severe alcohol abuse, malaria, early death of family and peers, sever gender inequality. There’s no toys, games, community centers, pools, organized sports with weekly games, arts and crafts, running trails, etc. in our community to let kids blow off steam.

My learners don’t complain as much as I think I would if I had to deal with all that they did. They deal with hardship and adversity. Some walk an hour + to get to school. They aren’t obsessed with fairness and truth the way I have come to realize I am.

My learners had a knack for turning a bad day upside down, but also a way of turning a good day upside down. They inspired me, they frustrated me, they made me laugh, they made me cry, they made me mad. I will never be able to comprehend what some of them go through on a daily basis, but I am so grateful that they opened up to me when they did, and that I had the chance to teach them. I’ll never be the same because of their shared perspective.

One of the best things I received before leaving was an envelope full of letters from my learners. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

  • “You were always there for me when I was bored.”
  • “You gave me power to believe in vision.”
  • “You are the most determined teacher I know.”
  • “Don’t worry, I’ve mastered advice and advise, I know the difference now.”
  • Thanks to you I now use the phrase “Old fish go boil your head.”
  • “Miss don’t be selfish send a present from the USA.”
  • Pretty as a dove, Smart as a wizard, Nice as a strawberry
  • “You are the first foreign teacher that made me cry because you are leaving.”
  • “I love you more than my father, that’s for sure. “
  • “I enjoyed being part of your team.”
  • “Thank you for remembering my name.”
  • “No one can really say goodbye to a teacher, for they forever stay in the hearts of their students.”
  • “In our culture we do not say goodbye, but we say see you again. Thank you for the things you taught us and making us leaders of tomorrow.”
  • “Thank you for believing in me when no one else did.”
  • “You helped me to realise that life is what you make and never to let go.”
  • “I want to thank you for being my English teacher, even though you always taught each class, you never even skipped one period. Why couldn’t you give us one free period?”
  • The best thing to do when you miss us learners, is to relax, close your eyes, and you will see all the Noordgrens learners.”
  • “I won’t promise to come visit you because money is a problem, but I will try to do so.”
  • “Please have a baby and name it after me.”
  • “Miss even though some people say that you made them fail their math exams, you are still the best English teacher in Rundu.” (still trying to figure this one out lol).
  • “You made me discover there is more to myself than I did.”
  • “I just want you to know that you are going but your teachings will remain.”
  • “I hope you enjoyed all the dust in Rundu.”
  • “We’ll miss your laugh, jokes and last but not least, your undeniable support in everything we do.”
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A sad face on a letter to me. That is one sad little guy!

I think my colleague put it best: “Naughty or nice, they
find a way into your heart.” I’ll miss my learners.

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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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Best Memories, Moments and Lessons of my Peace Corps Experience. Numbers 6-9

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.

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Hanging out with Baby Loide at Christmas 2013. She’s so adorable. We enjoyed staring at one another.

#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.

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Best Memories, Moments and Lessons of Peace Corps. Numbers 10-18

This week we gather with our Peace Corps group, Group 38, in Windhoek for our Close of Service Conference. It is basically the graduation ceremony for all Peace Corps groups. We will have some sessions on reintegrating back to America, job searching and reflecting on our service. We’re being put up in a nice hotel (thanks American tax payers!) and breakfast and dinner are included for the 2.5 day conference. Josh and I will stay til the end of the week to do all our required medical tests. The last time our entire group was together was our Mid-Service conference, and before that for our Re-connect (6 months into service) and our 2 month Pre-Service Training.

We get back to Rundu on Saturday, we have one last full week of work and then our last days of work are July 13th. On July 14  we come back down to Windhoek for all the last minute paperwork, etc. and then on July 17 we officially become Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).

Here are my best memories, moments and lessons of my Peace Corps experience, Numbers 10-18. You can find Numbers 19-24 here and Numbers 25-30 here.

#10 Sharing holidays with my Namibian friends – Fulfilling Goal # 2

It’s been so exciting to share holidays with my Namibian friends, family and learners. Thanksgiving, Christmas in the village, 4th of July, bachelorette parties, the list goes on and on. I loved explaining the kinds of food Americans eat and how we celebrate each holiday.

I’ll never forget what my friend Kazao said at our Thanksgiving celebration last year. “I couldn’t go to America so America came to me. I’m the lucky one for having been chosen.” This made me tear up – this is one of the reasons the Peace Corps exists – cultural exchange. It’s been one of the most gratifying parts of my service, learning about how Namibians live and sharing what real life is like in America.

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Thanksgiving 2014 hosted by JT and Queen (fellow PCVs in Rundu)

#11 Hearing my learners say Lisa-isms outside school

Some days you really wonder if anything you’re saying is getting through to your kids. But then some days you overhear some kids say things to one another and you know that some have been listening.

One day at volleyball practice I heard one player say to the other “Stop being an oompa-loompa!!” In the upper level grades here in Namibia learners are broken into “High Level” and “Ordinary Level” but I always called my grade 11s Extraordinary Level. I overheard one of my learners tell a higher level learner once “Oh, extraordinary level is actually better than higher level!”

Hearing little things like this always made me smile.

#12 Surprising people in our small community

I love city living, and while I’ve missed the amenities and anonymity I had in Denver, I have enjoyed living in a small community. As one of the few Americans in Rundu and Namibia, walking around town I often feel like a celebrity.

There are white people in Namibia. Most white people tend to stick together. I’m friends with both black and white people in Namibia. Most white people in our town have cars. PCVs can’t afford cars and aren’t allowed to drive. Consequently, we meet a lot of people walking all over our communities. Where I go running, I am on a trail that white people have little reason to be on.

When I am out with my Namibian friends in town we will get funny looks from people in our community. On my most recent trip to Windhoek with the volleyball team, my learners commented that the people in the mall were staring at us. They said to me “these white people are wondering what you’re doing with us.” The effects of apartheid are still felt here.

I’ve never been in a position where I felt like I was breaking down barriers a little bit, and it feels good.

#13 Changed, fresh perspective

Living overseas has changed the way I see the world. I’ll never view things through the same lense again, and I have Namibia to thank for that.  Former PC Director Anthony Williams once said  “Peace corps service isn’t a moment. Service is a mindset.” It’s true on so many levels.

Learning not to take things too seriously, remembering what matters most in life – being healthy, having enough food to eat, and having close friends and family. Living among people who have to deal with death from a very young age, and often, who don’t have enough food to eat, will change the way you see the world. I knew this existed before I came here, but now I have faces and names to attach to such circumstances. These are people in my community.

My colleagues always are grateful to wake up, and also think the afterlife will be a great thing, too. You have to do your best to let things roll off. Not everyone is afforded the luxury of getting old, especially in the developing world.

I read once that if there’s anything Americans are scared of, it’s inconvenience. I think this is true. I’ve had to shift and adjust myself to get used to being inconvenienced in Namibia. Uncomfortable combi rides, long lines at any store, not getting what you want often, cold showers, things not going as planned, frequent water and power outages, no electricity at all (for many in Namibia, not us), inefficient or traditional housing situations, dealing with very hot or cold temperatures with no A/C or heat, personal space not being respected and my cultural boundaries being pushed daily. I’ve grown a deeper appreciation of the USA, but also a deeper criticism for some things about my culture too now.

Experiencing all these things first hand has changed the way I see things. I’m a different person for it.

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Being introduced at church for 20 minutes for Village Christmas 2013. One of my most unforgettable moments of our time in Namibia. Thanks to my friend Lucy and her family for hosting us.

#14 Finding new hobbies

Part of being a Peace Corps volunteer is learning how to be flexible and adjust to your new surroundings. Josh and I have always been big hikers, but since the mountains aren’t within a 20 minute drive like they are in Colorado, we found new ways to spend our alone and together time.

I got into workout videos and baking cakes. In Namibia I’m regarded as a decent cook!  Josh got into different man crafts. Together we discovered birding, sundowners and safari rides.

#15 Facing and Overcoming challenges. Truly getting out of my comfort zone.

I’m not a natural-born teacher. Living overseas isn’t easy, and working through challenges every day could get exhausting. However, learning to find ways to deal with difficulties and (sometimes) overcoming them gave me great satisfaction. You don’t have to leave your home country for this to occur, but it adds an extra layer of satisfaction to deal with specific problems here that don’t arise at home.

#16 Teaching 

I’ve never been an expert in my career. I’m a generalist, and while being the jack of all trades, master of nothing can be a good thing I have always wanted to be a master at something. In Namibia I am actually an expert at something – English! It’s been new for me to be the go-to person for all answers on anything, and I’ve enjoyed it. Learners and colleagues alike come to me often for random questions they have about English.

My classes were big and they were often loud. However, sometimes when I would read to my learners, it would get so quiet. You could hear a pin drop. There were other times when I would say something that really grabbed their attention and I could see all 50 faces looking at me. Though those days felt few and far between, they were very, very good days that I’ll always remember. Working in the library you can see how much books can transform people.

I’ve really enjoyed having a multi-dimensional job. I’ve grown professionally and personally from teaching. While Peace Corps can be frustrating, you could never say it’s boring. I’ve had some really boring jobs. This is by far the most interesting.

#17 Being in my friend Shikongo’s wedding and attending 2 other weddings

I felt incredibly honored to be in my friend Shikongo’s wedding. Josh and I got to observe and participate in Vambo wedding traditions. We were treated like family the whole weekend and danced and celebrated with all friends and family. It was a really special day.

#18 Admiring the beauty of nature in its finest state here in Africa

Seeing animals in the wild, watching mama elephants protect their young, seeing giraffes drink at a watering hole, watching wild dogs hunt, snakes in classrooms (can’t say I enjoyed this), seeing lizards all over, hearing frogs lull us to sleep with their croaks at night, the trees, seeing Chameleons. Africa does not disappoint with the nature-gazing you can enjoy.

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My friend Shikongo’s wedding

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Best Memories, Moments and Lessons of Peace Corps. Numbers 19-24

In three weeks, we will pack our bags and leave what has been our home for the last two years. On July 17 we will officially become RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).

As a way to commemorate the end of a very special time in my life, I’ve written a list of the top 30 things I’ll miss, the takeaways and the lessons I’ll carry with me the rest of my life about my time in Namibia.

While there are many hard parts about being a volunteer, the benefits outweigh the tough stuff. I will try my level best here to share the best parts of our service. These are not in any particular order. You can find #25-30 here.

#19 Eating new foods 

I love trying new food. Whoever said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” clearly has not been hanging out with me. 🙂 I got to try a lot of new food here that I wouldn’t have at home. I ate some stuff Americans might consider weird: mopani worms, porridge, oryx, zebra, springbok, cow intestines, fat cakes, maguni fruit, etc.

When visiting villages, I grew a newfound respect for how hard some people work to grow and prepare their own food. Pounding mahangu is no easy task! I’ll really miss Namibian braais and the meat, guava juice, and all of my friend Hamutenya’s traditional food.  She’s an amazing cook.

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A traditional Kavango meal. Pap, chicken, beans and mutete. Yum.

#20 Hearing American music, especially the Star Spangled Banner in Namibia

I loved hearing old American tunes while in a store, in a combi or blaring on someone’s phone. Songs that you thought were dead are very alive here in Nam and they transported me to a different place in my life at home. I have the Star Spangled Banner on my ipod (I played it on 4th of July in my classes last year) and when I heard that song come on shuffle it always made me smile and be more aware of my surroundings. Many times I’ve heard the Star Spangled Banner play on my ipod when in Divundu or town when going running passed all the mud huts. At model school during pre-service training the learners sang our National Anthem it made me tear up. It’s special to see a group of non-Americans sing your National Anthem.

#21 Learning to live without and learning to accept what comes

I tried my best to live a simple life before Namibia, and after living here I know that view has gotten even stronger. You see how you can have a happy life with very little. Things that we take for granted at home are seen as luxury items here. Pens are something I never thought of as something lucky to own. I’ve seen kids fight over pens, suck the last bit of ink out of them to get this maximum use, and get so incredibly excited when they receive one as a gift.

While our level of depravity hasn’t been nearly as bad as it could have been, our service did not come without sacrifice.

As an American one of the most challenging parts of PC service has been adjusting to things that come up. I like to plan but here things just get in the way. Have an idea of how your day should go? It won’t go that way. Have an idea of how the lesson will play out? It won’t play out that way. What takes you 10 minutes at home takes 60 minutes or longer here. At some point and for some things you have to just go with the flow – otherwise, you’ll end up angry. You have to try your best to embrace the chaos.

#22 Hitch Hiking

If you don’t take a combi (12 passenger bus) to get to and from places, then you “hike” or hitch-hike as Americans call it. It’s less scary than it sounds, it’s more like an informal taxi service. It is actually pretty cool – the haves help out the have-nots (and the have-nots help out with petrol cost). There are prices set by the government as to how much it should cost to go from one place to another, but you can negotiate with the driver.

There are “hike points” in towns throughout Namibia that people go to in order to find a driver going in the same direction as you. This requires some patience, but it can also be fun. It feels a bit wild and crazy, as hitch hiking at home is not something you would ever do. We’ve met many cool people hitch hiking all around Nam.  Hiking together can be a great way to bond with people. Josh and I have had picnics in the back of covered bakkies, met kind people who thanked us for serving their country by treating us to a free ride and food and sang with strangers in cars to mutually favorite songs.

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Our Peace Corps Daughter Mary Grace and I hitch hiking to Rundu after Girls Weekend at Nunda Lodge. We found that holding signs made things less awkward while hiking here.

#23 The moments of pure frustration and the moments of pure magic

There’s a lot of frustration but also a lot of magic that’s happened during my Peace Corps Service.

Part of the hard part of Peace Corps is that it’s only two years. But that is also what makes it special.

You can feel utterly hopeless and hopeful in the same day or even the same hour. The pendulum of extremes really swing far here.  You can feel so angry at a class, and then your friend helps build you back up or a different learner comes to tell you they care, and you’re reminded that you have family here. It was a good reminder that you have to take the good with the bad.

#24 Visits with friends and family from home in Namibia

It was really special to see friends and family here during our two years. We had nine visitors come from the United States! Some got to attend classes with me and with all our visitors we got to see some of Africa’s wonders. We felt really honored that our friends and family included us in their vacation time and money. Thanks to these visits now I have memories of our time in Africa with Americans who were part of our life before Nam and will be after. It was an incredible pick-me-up to see familiar faces here.

Numbers #10-18 to follow next week.

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Best Memories, Moments and Lessons of my Peace Corps Experience. Numbers 25-30

In exactly one month, we will pack our bags and leave what has been our home for the last two years. On July 17 we will officially become RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).

As a way to commemorate the end of a very special time in my life, I’ve written a list of the top 30 things I’ll miss, the takeaways and the lessons I’ll carry with me the rest of my life about my time in Namibia.

While there are many hard parts about being a volunteer, the benefits outweigh the tough stuff. I will try my level best here to share the best parts of our service. These are not in any particular order.

#25 Running, yoga, workout videos and getting in great shape

In all the places I’ve lived I’ve always made running a part of my weekly exercise. I have vivid memories of running with my cross country team around my neighborhood in high school, seeing beautiful monuments in D.C. running in college with my best friend, running the streets of London during study abroad, and seeing the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop to many of my runs out West. Now I can add to my life’s list of running scenery the gorgeous Kavango River ebbing and flowing, the Atlantic Ocean “this side” and my town of Rundu.

I’ll miss passing by ladies carry baskets on their head, the little kids who would join me for a few meters, and the men who would cheer me on.  While running in town it was impossible for me to not run into people I knew. I would greet them, and smile as it was a great reminder of how many people we have gotten to know in our time here.

Fitness has always been a big part of my life, but here I started to really vary my workouts with videos. Some of my best memories of Peace Corps are working out and doing yoga with fellow PCVs and learners. As Chalene Johnson says, “Fitness friends are the best friends.” That has always been true for me. I enjoy sweating and pushing myself to reach fitness goals alongside my friends. We usually indulge in cake after. 🙂

I’d also like to thank Jillian Michaels and SeanT in addition to Chalene for helping me build strength. I pushed play on those videos almost every day of my service and feel like those three have become my friends. I came to Namibia with high blood pressure and a couple extra pounds. I leave with perfect blood pressure and as a healthier woman. Here’s hoping I can keep up my improved workout and nutrition routine post-Peace Corps.

#26 Sundowners, Sunset cruises, Morning cruises

“Going for sundowner”is a common saying in Namibia. You park yourself in a good spot to watch the sun go down. Africa has some of the most incredible sunsets in the world. Living near the river, we feel fortunate that our Peace Corps experience included beautiful natural scenery.

I’ll miss Peace Corps date nights at Kavango River Lodge with my male husband and female husband (JT), the great staff and needless to say, the most amazing meal in Nam, the prawns. Sundowners provided a needed breath of fresh air from the often difficult things we had to face as PCVs.

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Enjoying a sunset cruise at Ngepi Camp in Divundu

#27 Doing things that you’d never do at home

Living abroad you find yourself in situations that you never would at home. In Namibia I’ve judged a beauty pageant, went for a swim at the edge of Victoria Falls and been introduced to a church congregation of hundreds for 20 minutes. The list goes on and on. The memories of the outrageous things we did these last two years will always help me remember my time fondly.

#28 Admiring the beautiful dancing, singing and cultural customs of Namibia

Africa celebrates its culture in beautiful ways. Tradition is important to my learners – I read about it in countless essays of theirs. I’ll always remember hearing the beautiful singing at Onane and Otate’s (our host parents) church, how singing united people in sadness at funerals and the enthusiasm of voices at weddings and at the beginning of meetings. As a tourist you may visit a places with a guide to get a sense of the culture. As Peace Corps volunteers, we ask our Namibian friends to share their culture with us, and we get to participate not just observe.

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Kavango traditional dance and song at our prize giving ceremony in September 2013

#29 The exploring we did on weekends and holidays

Nearby Lodge visits, baking at home, trips to the beach, great breakfasts, camping trips with our tent, the beach, trips home to the USA, London for the day, braais, the Dunes, visiting fellow PCVs at their sites, Namakasa’s Grandmom’s birthday weekend, Chobe National Park, my school staff party, Victoria Falls, weekends with Tanya and friends at Nunda Lodge. We’ve worked hard and we’ve played hard.

#30 The sounds of Nam

African birds chirping and singing, hearing “Miss!” or “Teacher!” from across campus and in town, frogs croaking me to sleep, our cat meowing first thing in the morning, hearing the learners play soccer with a coke can at 6 a.m., the learners singing the Namibian National anthem, hearing the volleyball team begin practising daily around 3 p.m. I’ll miss the sounds of Nam that I’ve become accustomed to and that are unique to living here.

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Josh and I at Hakusembe Lodge celebrating my birthday

Top #19-24 of our Peace Corps experience to follow next week!

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