I have to tell you something sad, which is that I DON’T HAVE INTERNET in my village. I discovered that it’s one thing to say you don’t mind living in rural Africa with no electricity or running water, but it’s quite another to actually live without internet.
I thought I would have it because I have a 3G internet stick, but I guess the cell phone reception isn’t good enough… the good news is that I have some internet on my phone so I can respond to emails and Facebook messages… I just can’t stay on long and I can’t write blog posts except when I go into town.
Today is Day 5 at site. It’s taking me a little bit to get adjusted; my schedule keeps changing and there are so many new faces that it’s hard to find stability. Also I think Namibian culture shock is finally hitting me, especially since now I will be here in this village for the next two years, ah! The days here seem really long, and every time I finish one, I feel a big sense of accomplishment. I know that in a few weeks, I will feel completely comfortable and at home here, but for right now, I’m still adjusting and taking it one day at a time. Here’s how my days have been going…
I start by walking an hour to school with my two brothers (and whomever else we pick up on the way). We leave right before the sun comes up, so every morning I get to watch the sunrise over the plains. It’s ABSOUTELY beautiful, and then I have the “Circle of Life” stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I stay at school just in the mornings, because from 11:00-2:00 is my ONLY alone time all day. When the kids come home from school at two, we play games for an hour, do homework for two hours, and then we farm (did I tell you I live on a small farm?) until it gets dark. Then I help cook dinner and hang out with the kids until I go to bed!
Tomorrow I’m getting sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer!!!!!!!!!!!!
Even though I hate emo blogs, I’m feeling sappy now that training is over. Thus, I’m going to write a semi-long post to try and describe the past two months. Obviously there’s no way I could ever begin to relate everything; it would have been nice if I consistently updated my blog so that I wouldn’t have to write a 130,497 paragraph post when I should be packing– but alas! I didn’t.
So, to start with my friends…
I found some amazing ones: There’s Claire, who wears J. Crew and loves theme parties… Mo who is my music soul mate and nearly cried today when she saw giraffes… Chris, who asks a lot of “would you rather” questions and throws rocks at dogs… Matt, who is my partner in crime for everything rebellious I’ve done here… Allison, who is from Vegas and is the reincarnation of Travel Maggie (if you don’t know who that is, go to France)… and Laine, who can sing every word to several Nicki Minaj songs and is nice to everyone. Anyway, I can’t explain everything about everyone I love, but there’s a brief summary. Most of them are at least a days-worth of hitch hiking away from my site, so I feel like I’m leaving for Africa all over again! Saying goodbye tomorrow is going to be really hard.
As for the group as a whole: it’s awesome. We’re the first group in many years that hasn’t had someone leave after seeing their site. We’re being sworn in with all 38 members who came into the country 2 months ago. According to our trainers, we’re the best dressed, have the most positive attitudes, and exceed their expectations in language. We really do feed off of each others’ positive energy, and that has made training way easier.
Training itself was great. The sessions kind of got long (we went from 7:30 to 5 every day), and often were monotonous/boring/sweltering. But they were necessary for our success as volunteers. We had technical, safety, cross-cultural, medical and language sessions. I won’t bore myself/you with the details on those…Tea break at 10:00 was the highlight of every day. And then we discovered fried chicken at the grocery store, so lunch became equally amazing. After session, my friends and I often go (went? That’s so sad!) to a local bar, called Club Opuiri. It’s a little sketchy but we’re obsessed. We drink Black Label and shots that come in plastic bags. In order to make those outings official, Matt and I formed the Opuiri Committee – including an appointed Safety and Security Officer, Events Coordinator, PR, and Game Coordinator.
Also, we were the first education group to be able to observe local classes and actually teach to practice before we got to site. That was awesome. Aside from my miserable first day of breaking up a fight, I also taught a lesson on following directions and did a review on grammar and spelling. I was really proud of those lessons, and the kids loved them. BUT my biggest challenge is my inability to demand respect or demonstrate authority…I kept befriending learners, oops. I knew that was going to be my biggest weakness, and it will be exponentially worse at site because my learners are in high school and we usually spend the whole afternoon hanging out after school (I live with several of them). Trying to work out a good solution to this problem. Suggestions? Joe and Maggie?
Language classes were the highlight of training. There were only three of us in the class, and our teacher – John – was a good friend. So we spent a lot of time talking about life, culture in Namibia, friends, sex, etc. We hardly ever spoke Rukwangali. So then, when we all did HORRIBLY on the first language exam, John kind of freaked out. I think he was afraid of losing his job, but we ignored his protests and continued to distract him. But then two days ago, the three of us pulled it together and studied like crazy. I ended up moving up three levels and passing the final exam with flying colors. Woot!
Life at home was also great. Sometimes I was a bad host daughter because I came home late or was SO in need of alone time that I locked myself in my room. But Nicoltine was so supportive and understanding. We had a lot of bonding sessions and endlessly discussed her “boyfriend” (who she’s never met in real life?) and my PST drama. Nathan is equally fantastic. We watch Tom and Jerry and have a lot of dance parties. I’m going to miss the two of them SO much.
One thing that has been a big adjustment for me is the Namibian culture. There are some things that are wonderful and make the transition way easier… Namibians are a very welcoming and friendly people. When they walk into a room, they greet everyone individually, and it is absolutely essential for them to ask every single person about their lives and their family. Families are fantastic because they are not defined by blood AT ALL. Your family is everyone that lives in your house and/or visits a lot. Second, third, fourth cousins are considered “brothers” and “sisters”, and aunts/uncles are called “mom” and “dad.” I was talking to my new host dad about his “mom’s” funeral, and later that day we went to visit his “mom” at her house. I still haven’t figured out which was his real mom and which was his aunt, but I guess the point is that it doesn’t matter here. The best part about that is that I don’t feel like a guest in either of my host homes – they immediately considered me a part of the family, and thus expected me to contribute an equal part in the responsibilities. We all cook, clean and raise children together. I think that’s the part that I love most about Namibia.
But there are also parts of the culture that have posed a challenge for me, especially in regards to gender roles. They are clearly defined and rarely challenged; men are the heads of household and women are meant to serve their husbands and bear children. At my site, for example, the dad makes ALL the decisions for the family. The first time he told me to go make dinner for him because he was hungry, I wanted to be like, “IF YOU’RE SO HUNGRY, MAKE IT YOURSELF!” But of course I didn’t do that – even to say “no” in a kind way would be unheard of. There are other implications to this gender dynamic. In many cases, girls won’t raise their hand in class, or look you in the eye or speak to you directly because they feel inferior. In my region, many/most men have several wives (and a million children!). John explained to us the other day that it’s common for boys – when they’re around 12 – to lose their virginity by going into girls’ rooms and having sex with them while they’re sleeping or pretending to be asleep. I don’t think he registered how mortified our faces were, because for him that’s is just how it is. Women are afraid to say no in almost any context. It has become a lot clearer to me why the teen pregnancy and AIDS rates are so high. My village in Kavango epitomizes that aspect of Namibian culture, and even the four days I spent there were draining and emotional. But the good news is that we’re not here to change a culture or tell anyone what’s right and wrong. We’re just here to offer a new perspective and help enable the kids/teenagers to have the confidence to analyze it themselves.
Anyway, training has been insanely amazing. I loved my family, the trainers and my friends. But I know that it’s time to move on, stop partying so much, and put everything I’ve learned into practice as an official Peace Corps volunteer. Wish me luck?
Hello! I just got back form my site visit. I have a lot to say about it, but its 4:45 in the morning and I’m not in the mood to explain the a million emotions and impressions I got in the four days I was there. In the meantime, here are some pictures.