Saturday, July 31, 2010

Final Thoughts and Thank You

I have officially left Africa and Im blogging from the air somewhere between New York City and San Francisco.

It's hard to believe that my time in Namibia has come to a close.  It is amazing how much I experienced in two short months.  I created a list of the top 15 things I'm going to miss about Namibia, and the top 15 things I'm looking forward to in the good ol' US of A.  Thought I'd share these via my blog with all of you.

Top 15 Things I will miss about Namibia 
(in no particular order)

1. Oshiwambo language and culture
2. Slower pace of life
3. African sky - the sunsets and the stars!
4. Being called "Miss"
5. The sounds of children singing
6. African babies 
7. Greeting and being greeted by all
8. Culture of sharing - "In Africa, we share"
9. Kapana and fat cakes
10. My Namibian colleagues and staff room banter
11. Being a celebrity
12. The warm African sun
13. My evening runs in Okahao
14. Shades of Sin - the awesomely bad soapie on every night at 7 PM
15. Laughing at the many frustrating and hilarious cultural differences

Things I look forward to back in the USA

1. Timely and reliable transport (my own car!)
2. Washing machines and dryers
3. Clean feet
4. Bathrooms with hand soap and toilet paper
5. My bed - with a comforter and no sleeping bag
6. Recycling
7. My family and friends
8. Fast and accessible Internet
9. General cleanliness
10. Not being stared at or called to everywhere I go
11. Rain
12. Going to my church
13. Couches
14. Restaurants
15. Fresh fruits and vegetables 

It is hard to put into words some sort of conclusion to this journey to share with all of you.  I know I will be processing this experience for awhile, and look forward to reflecting back on what I have been through with friends and family over the next few months.  

All I can say now is that I have learned a lot, and given a lot of myself away throughout this experience.  This has been among the highlights of my life so far, and I'm thankful to God and to all of you who helped make this possible through your prayers, thoughts and financial support.

I hope in some way through reading this blog you have been give of yourself to others, to share all that we have, and go on adventures of your own.    I truly believe there is no greater experience than giving your time, energy, and love to others with no strings attached.  In the end, the rewards are so much greater than can be imagined.

Thanks for following my journey!  I will be updating Facebook with lots of photos soon...  

And as they say in Oshiwambo, "kala po nawa!"  (Stay well!) 

Work Hard, Play Hard

While I definitely worked hard during the week, some of the weekends were left for fun and traveling.  Two trips were highlights of my African experience:

Victoria Falls:

Victoria Falls is one of the seven wonders of the world, and me and some other volunteers felt that we couldn't be this close and not experience it for ourselves.  Though it was a ridiculously long bus ride (approximately 15 hours one way), we decided it was worth it. 

We spent a whirlwind 20 hours in Livingstone, Zambia.  We arrived and rushed to the falls.  We ran around the park, checking out the incredible rushing falls from each different look-out point.  The sight of the massive waterfalls took my breath away.  I have never seen anything like it!  We ran across a bridge in the park and got totally soaked by the heavy mist from the gushing and full falls.  Other tourists covered from head to toe in ponchos looked at us like we were crazy!  From there we rushed back to our hostel and changed for a dinner at the Royal Livingstone Hotel.

The four of us had been living and working in les than glamorous environments, and certainly not near hotels with five star restaurants.  Our dinner out was a supremely special treat in which we delighted in every bite.  I enjoyed my first taste of impala game meat and it was delicious.  We rushed from there to a Zambian Cultural show and enjoyed some traditional dancing.  After this, we spent a night out on the town in Livingstone.

Early the next morning we took an amazing helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, circling above both Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The pictures almost do it justice, so you will just have to wait and see those.  Our trip quickly came to an end, but it was one of the most memorable weekends I have ever had.


On my way to Windhoek for my flight back home, I stopped in a popular touristy beach town on the coast of Namibia called Swakopmund.  Swakopmund has a distinctly German feel to it, as this is where many of the Germans settled when Namibia was first colonized.  It is very different from the rest of Namibia, in terms of wealth and the abundance of white people.   

The most striking aspect of Swakopmund is the beautiful fusion of the ocean and huge sand dunes.  It is incredible to see the dichotomy of the sea and the sands of the Namib Desert right next to one another.

I enjoyed Swakopmund alone, which was so relaxing and nice to have some time to decompress before a long trip home.  I spent one day sand boarding down the massive dunes at speeds of up to 75 km/hr - quite the adrenaline rush!  I also spent a day at Walvis Bay on a cruise where I saw dolphins, seals, pelicans, and more.  On the ride we enjoyed fresh oysters fresh from the bay.  On my last day I went quad biking through the dunes with a new friend, learned about the history of the dunes, saw foot/animal prints that were thousands of years old, and also plenty of creatures of the desert.  The rest of my time was spent eating food I had not enjoyed for the last two months and shopping around Swakop.  It was a wonderful trip and great to see another side of Namibia.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In Africa, We Share

On Sunday I began my trek from the North of Namibia to a touristy beach town called Swakopmund.

I woke up early on Sunday morning to begin the trip. I had to grab some clothes that were drying overnight off the clothesline, and noticed something very different about the sky. In my two months in the North, I have never seen a cloudy sky. The day I left Okahao, though, the sky was covered in a blanket of clouds, not an inch of blue to be seen. It was fitting, it seemed, for my last few hours in my beloved village. My roommate noted, "Namibia is giving you a proper farewell!" Little did I know the sky would not be the only "proper" farewell from Namibia...

I had been lucky (ha) enough to arrange a ride with a colleague's brother and his father who were from Walvis Bay, just 30 km from Swakopmund. I was excited to be able to avoid the crowded and chronically late kombis and ride with a familiar face. Little did I know...

I left Okahao around 7 AM and arrived in Ondangwa after 2 taxi rides around 9 AM. We had agreed to meet at 9 AM in the Shop Rite parking lot. In true Namibian style, they did not arrive until 11 AM.

When Tuafeni and Mr. Ndaamakele arrived in a bakki (pick-up truck), I had no idea what the next day of my life would hold. I lugged my belongings (a large duffle bag and backpacking backpack - all of the possessions I brought to Namibia) toward the bakki. As I approached, I saw women piling out of the back of the truck. I then looked into the back and saw a stuffed truck bed - bags, food, blankets, whatever. They began to make space for my bags (though I don't know how they managed) and shoved it to the back. After some rearranging, it was time for us to get in and start our journey.

In the back of a stuffed bakki was me, and three memes who became my sisters by the end of the 10 hour long trip! I have one special photo to keep with me to show what it looked like at the start of our drive...we were practically laying on top of each other for the next several hours. Our legs were entangled, and our hot sweaty bodies sticking to one another. The heat of the hot African day made the temperature close to unbearable in the back, and fortunately there was a cooler full of cool drinks and beers.

This was a prime example of "In Africa we share", a motto I've lived by here and will bring home with me in my life in the USA. All of the food, drinks, anything they had - they shared with me, a perfect stranger. We sipped on cokes and beers to stay cool, they shared their lunches with me, without question. It was expected that if they offered me something, I would take it.

Mostly they spoke in Oshiwambo - a language a love listening to. We spoke some of the time, me attempting Oshiwambo and they getting very excited! I told them about my recently given Owambo name, "Dapandula", which means "Thank you", and they loved this. From that point on, that was the name by which I was called. I showed them photos on my iPad, and answered their questions about the USA. We passed the time talking, sleeping, and sweating. We stopped at every larger city, and they took the chance to stock up on food, further packing the bakki. It was as if there was no recognition that the back already had too much stuff in it!

At one point a friend called on the cell phone, and the meme talked in Oshiwambo, of course. Then she switched to English to tell me, "I was telling her that we are just driving with our sister from the North, Dapandala!" And handed me the phone, where I proceeded to chat with her friend!

For the duration of our 10 hour car ride, these women welcomed me with open arms and treated me like family. This is how life is in Namibia - and Namibia gave me this farewell so that I won't soon forget "In Africa, we share."

Farewell Okahao and Shaanika Nashilongo SSS

This past week was my last in Okahao and at Shaanika Nashinlongo SSS. It was really hard to leave, but my colleagues gave me the best farewell I've ever experienced!

The last week of teaching was exhausting but very rewarding. This week was focused mainly on a comprehensive review of the skills I focused on during my time here. My approach was to split each class in half for the two remaining class period. The first half practiced their typing with the typing skills program, and the other half was up front doing a review/game with me. Then, the next time we met, they switched. The review/game consisted of 15 or so learners crowded around my main computer up front. I would go around the line of learners and ask them a question, or to demonstrate a skill on the computer that was projected on the chalkboard. If they didn't know it, or answered incorrectly, we would move on to the next learner. For correct answers, the learner would get a treat! This was always an effective motivating factor. At times, however, it caused complete chaos - like at the end of class when everyone in the class begged for a sweet. "Miss, a sweet! Miss, Miss!"

All in all, I was thrilled with the results. Learners who knew little to nothing about computer basics mastered them at the end of my time there. Of course there were also many who still struggled, but this helped to get them up to speed in a more one-on-one (but still with half their classmates watching...ha) setting. If I noticed someone didn't know how to do something, I was able to instruct them at that moment, or they watched their classmate to learn how.

Lots of photos were taken this last week, which the learners love. The funniest part about this is when I would join them for the photos. For some, this was the closest they had gotten to me, and took the opportunity to feel my hair and skin. I look a bit stressed in some of the photos as fingers are running through my hair and touching every inch of revealed skin... Every learner wanted his or her own photo with me, and always wanted to see themselves on the digital camera. Lots of fun photos to be posted on Facebook very soon!

The farewell I received from my colleagues was incredible. They planned a party for me and took a collection of funds from everyone. They threw a braii (bbq) with delicious meet and salad. The party had a teacher designated as a Director of Ceremonies, the principal gave a speech, I was given amazing Namibian cultural gifts, certificate of appreciation, a book of thank you notes, and many colleagues stood up to give a speech of thanks. I had no idea the impact I made on the teachers until it was expressed here. It was heart-warming to know that they appreciate their new or improved computer literacy, and the doors it will open for their future. I also gave a short (teary-eyed) speech attempting to put into words my thankfulness for the experience and their friendship. It's hard to even explain the kindness of this group of people and the wonderful farewell they gave me, so I won't write much more as it won't do it justice. Hands down, this was the nicest celebration I've ever experienced in my honor.

The last days were filled with hugs, tears, and goodbyes. I have never been so sad to leave a place. This has been a truly incredible experience and I will never forget the people and time I spent in Okahao and Shaanika Nashilongo.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

First Email Accounts and Messages

The last couple of weeks I have worked to set up email addresses for the teachers that do not yet have them. I’m have signed up 10 total, and it has hands down been one of the highlights of my experience. It is pretty unreal to watch someone receive their very first email – the excitement, shock, and smiles can hardly be contained! They are astonished by the speed with which you can send and receive an email, and how much fun it can be.

So what is even more fun than watching them receive their first email? Being the first one to send that inaugural message, and to be the first person they send an email to. I have saved the emails they have sent me as they are priceless.

I have posted them below (no editing) in case you are interested in reading them! The message from Mr. Kamati, the principal, was extremely touching and brought tears to my eyes.

In addition, my mom requested a pen pal from Namibia! This is an amazing idea and I wish I had thought of this sooner. Now that they have email, they all need more people to write to! I set her up with Ms. Mufwinda and she was ecstatic. So excited to send and receive emails from someone in the USA. If you are interested and read this soon, let me know and I can try to set you up with a teacher here at Shaanika.

First emails ever sent by the teachers:

Ms. Mufwinda:

Hi Dana. i m so excited to use my email for the first time and especially with you.This is great. I love it. Thanks a lot Dana.

Ms. Uushona:

Thank u Ms Dana for assissting me on how to sent an E-mail.
I will enjoy it.Thank u once more.Ok.

Mr. Hamatumwa:

Am really excited to have ma lovely e-mail. we will keep in touch yaaaaaaah.

Mrs. Kamati:

It mazing to met u around and connect us to world wide tecnology. Almigth God bless u ever .Will miss u alot !!!

Mr. Kamati:

It will take our school community so millions of words and countless thoughts to express our sincere gratitude over the services rendered both to our learners and teachers while with us just over a period of almost two moths. Your servises contributions has indeed made a great and tangible impact to the targeted group. I am so happy that you have attained your goal in the light that all our teaching staff have acquired some basic computer skills. Your departure will be surelry another vacuum in our journery for ICT learning and we will miss you.

But however , though leaving , you have made an unerassable record in the persuit of ICT adventure and teaching and leaning in general, in our lovely institution.So, God bless and be ahead of your trip back to Portland-USA.

With sincere appreciatios

Mr. E.I.Kamati : Head master

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kapana, Fat Cakes, and a Cool Drink

As we approach the open market, the smell of kapana pungent, my mouth begins to water. The bodies of raw cattle are hanging about, flies buzzing and moving from stand to stand. Some of the meat is in the process of being prepared to be grilled – sliced into smaller pieces with a machete. We walk up to our favorite stand owner, who already has some of the kapana grilled and ready to eat. We look in his pot of meat, and pick out our favorite pieces. We negotiate a price and quantity, and he throws it back on the grill to warm up. When it is nice and hot, he brings it back out and slices it into bite-sized chunks of deliciousness.

He prepares our plate – a cheap metal saucer – and haphazardly throws the tasty seasoning on our plate of kapana. He adds the sauce – chopped tomatoes, onions, chili and spices. Then, it is time to grab some fat cakes. They are as fatty as their name foreshadows – a round, doughy, fried combination of sunflower oil, yeast, and flour. Fat cakes are quite the fitting name for the delectable treats that are found at every open market, and are the perfect compliment to the kapana.

We grab our kapana and fat cakes, and head over to the Meme who sells cool drinks. A two liter Coca-Cola to share will complete the trifecta – kapana, fat cakes, and Coca-Cola.

We sit down in the heat of the Namibian afternoon to enjoy our meal. As they say, “In Africa, we share”, and one plate is shared by many. The key to the best bite is to grab a piece of kapana to your liking, tear off a chunk of the fat cake, and soak up some sauce and tomatoes and onions. This savory bite can hardly be described in words – a flavorful blend of seasoning, tender meat, and fresh vegetables. The zesty taste makes my mouth burn with delight, and I’m pleasantly relieved by a large swig from the glass bottle of ice cold Coca-Cola.

In this moment, I can forget the stress of the tiring day of teaching, or the complicated and frustrating cultural differences. Moments like these, spent with good food and friends in Namibia, make this experience unforgettable. It is now that I can look around, absorb where I am, and the work that I’m doing at my school. These experiences serve as a reminder of how blessed I am to be in the beautiful and diverse country that is Namibia. I’ve learned here that often even the most simple of things in life can be the most satisfying – even just an afternoon walk, a stop at the open market, and enjoyment of kapana, fat cakes, and a cool drink.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Will all the OVCs in the classroom, please stand up?

OVC is a Namibian governmental term that stands for orphans or vulnerable children. To be an OVC you have no parents, or one of your parents has passed away.

I came to a harsh realization in one of my classes about the prevalence of this class of children in my school, and on a greater scale, Namibia. The teachers were asked to track the number of orphans in the school by home classroom to report to the government. The home classroom teacher for one class forgot to count in her own period, and came to my class to gather her count. She took me aside and asked, "Miss Dana, can I take the orphans from your class?"

I replied, confused, "Yes...but I don't know who they are."

She said that she would just ask them. She then made an announcement to my class that all of the orphans needed to leave the lab and come with her. At that point, half of my class stood up from their comptuers, and walked out of the classroom. Half of my learners had no parents, or one living parent.

In talking with colleagues and my principal about this situation, I learned that most of the parent deaths are casued by AIDS-HIV. I've known that I'm living in a country with 20-25% HIV infection rate, but it didn't really seem like it until this day. While it is so prevalent here, it's also so very hidden - you don't know who has it - it isn't talked about, and when someone dies, even if it's from HIV, it's more acceptable to just say they died of a "heart attack" or "sickness".

It pains me to know how many children grow up without parents, or without a Mother or Father. While it is such a tragedy by our standards, here, it is the norm. It is comforting to see the extension of family care though - many of these children have grandparents, aunt, uncles, brothers, sisters, or friends who care for them when they go "home". While there is usually someone or a group of people to care for OVCs, I learned that it is also common that these learners end up dropping out of school to become the head of household for their family, and care for their younger siblings. Without a high school education, the opportunities for young Namibians and limited, and it's much harder to go back to school later.

Situations like these make me thankful and appreciative of my life and family back in the USA. There is hope, though, that this will not be as severe a situation for Namibian youth in the future. I have seen work and education around issues of AIDS-HIV. Just this morning, a large group of learners received certificates for completing a course, "My Future is my Choice" around sexual health and AIDS-HIV. I pray that as Namibia grows into a developed country, the epidemic that is AIDS-HIV will diminish, and a generation of young Namibians will experience life with both of their parents.