Saturday, September 28, 2013

Camping Weekend!

20 Girls crammed into the back of a closed bakkie... normal!
At the end of July we had a crazy weekend of camping outside of Luderitz, and it was awesome! We started our weekend with the GUTS Girls Group, camping at Stormvogels Bucht, which is a deserted [like everything down here] bay on the way out to Diaz Point. It used to be an old whaling station! This overnight camping trip was the result of months of work with my counterpart trying to secure funds and the location. We took 50 girls out into the middle of nowhere, and along the way almost lost Esme's car to the rocky no-road terrain [as in the car was literally stuck up a rockface and tilted over... it took a lot of skilled maneuvering to fix that]. During the course of the afternoon and morning the next day I, along with Maria, Esme, and Queenie led sessions on peer pressure, self-esteem, and the standard condom demonstrations. The most memorable part of the trip, for the girls at least, was the evening portion.

S'mores and Glow Sticks!

Once it got dark the girls realized that there really was no power or running water, and things got more interesting. After dinner Maria and I broke out the glowsticks, and were in the process of explaining how to use them and handing them out, when all of a sudden, I was mobbed by a stampede of girls trying to get into the room. They had seen a hyena on the mountain next to us! We put the flashlight on that area, and sure enough, there was a brown hyena observing us! Esme told them not to worry, it was just a springbok, and luckily most of them believed her. Brown hyenas aren't actually dangerous, they're scavengers, but it was still a bit of a shock! Then, as we started with the s'mores, a trio of jackals came close to our campfire! Wildlife survives even in the moonscape of the Luderitz area! The girls were thrilled to be trying s'mores for the first time, and overall the weekend was a big success!

The adventure on the dirt road continues!

The next day, two hours after getting back from our Girls Group trip, we headed back out of Luderitz to visit Sarah, our friend who lives at a permanent camp site in the middle of the southern veld. She is doing her PhD on large carnivore-human conflict, which is a big issue in Namibia. Southern Namibia is filled with private farms, and most of the farmers are under the impression that the leopards, hyenas, and cheetahs are killing their livestock. Sarah has camera traps set across a wide range of farms that record where the animals are, and her findings point to the fact that these animals are not generally responsible for killing the cattle. It's a really interesting topic, and Sarah is crazy awesome for living out in the bush on her own to work on it! We've wanted to visit her for the past year, but since she's in the middle of nowhere and we don't have access to a car [nor are volunteers allowed to drive], we've never been able to go! 

Cue a couple weeks prior to this, when we befriended a really fun guy from Walvis Bay, Trevor. He was totally game to head out into the veld for an overnight, so off we went, cooler filled with savannas, chops, and wors for a lekker braai in front of her tent! She really is in the middle of nowhere, but once we arrived it was absolutely gorgeous, right at sunset. She lives on the Namtib reserve, near the campsite of a nice lodge. You can see the red sand of the Namib nearby, and her site is also surrounded by mountains. We were able to go on a great morning walk the next day before we headed back to Luda. The only downer about where she lives is the extreme temperature - in the summer it's the hottest place in the country and in the winter it's the coldest. It was freezing cold when we were there!!! I was so lucky she had an extra sleeping bag for me to use over mine! Overall
the weekend was so much fun, despite me not being a super campy person!  
morning walk!

Luda Crew token jumping picture at the end of a great night in the veld!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Hiking Chronicles

As I struggle with putting into words how unbelievable it is that my last day of work is next Friday, and as I have not yet written about my final holiday here, I'll post something that I wrote a while back after my COS conference!

This is going to be a CRAZY long post, apologies in advance! The following is a summary of my two years in African transport…

As I celebrate the fact that as of my return two days ago to Luderitz, I will officially never have to hitch-hike again, I thought it would be an appropriate time to post about PC Nam’s methods in transportation. When people want to go somewhere in Namibia, there are three options that you have – first, find someone you know who is going there and will give you a ride in their private car [this almost never happens]. Second, take a combi – which is a minibus. Odds are if you go this route you will leave 2 hours later than the driver says, you will be squished, hot, and not entirely comfortable with the smells of 13 + other people you are riding with, and if you are me, 1 out of 3 times you ride in one at least one thing in the combi will break down, further delaying the trip. The third option is hitch-hiking, or as we call it, hiking. To the majority of readers of this blog, that probably sounds like the craziest option, but here it is actually the most preferable. I will never forget the first night in Namibia when the Volunteer Leaders were talking to us about hiking, and my group was terrified of having to travel this way, while we listened to these three experienced people talk about their craziest hiking experiences [one was in a funeral hearse, as in sitting next to a coffin with a body in it, nothing will beat that].

Anyway, it turns out Peace Corps Namibia has one of the highest rates of hitch-hiking in terms of the rest of the Peace Corps community, and when the African Regional Security Director came to visit, it was something he wanted to directly address. He was not a fan of the fact that this is how we travel. Peace Corps Namibia of course recognized that we traveled this way, but they did not condone it. After the visit from the regional security director a few changes came into place that I think were for the best. From now on, if we are hiking, we are supposed to sms the Duty Officer where we are going, who we are with, and the license plate/description of the car we are in – with the promise that we would not get in trouble. We are also very strictly prohibited from taking rides in the backs of open bakkies [pick-up trucks]. At the beginning of my service, this type of ride was even desirable because it’d be a little cooler/a lot breezier/generally more spacious. However, this past December holiday when I was traveling to my friend’s out-of-the-way village, sitting in an open bakkie with two other friends, we stopped for our driver to help out at a pretty horrific accident involving an overturned open bakkie and a man with a metal pole sticking out of his eye [also there were two police cars with officers literally just standing around staring instead of taking the seriously injured people to the hospital, which was only 15k away, what in the world!!!!]. After this experience, I came to several conclusions, one of which was deciding never to travel in an open bakkie again.
That time in December 2011, when 11 people tried to hike to Luderitz... and failed. #heatstrokeistheworst 

Anyway, I think the changes in Peace Corps policy in this regard are really for the better, in that they are acknowledging the way we travel and hopefully finding alternatives in the long run. For me at least, I don’t particularly enjoy standing on the side of the road waving my hand for people to take pity on me. But it is a much cheaper, more comfortable, and better - at least in my experience - way to travel. I also do not hike from Luderitz to Keetmanshoop [the next biggest town] and vice versa. That first or last stretch of my travels is different for a couple of reasons. First off, Luderitz isn’t on the way to anywhere except the ocean – you generally have to pay to get in or out, even if it is a hike. Secondly, I don’t like hiking that stretch because there is literally NOTHING on that road for hundreds of kilometers except the desert, and for 100 kilometers or so there is no cell service, so if something bad happened with the person driving me I really would be in very serious trouble.

Getting to the fun stuff, once you get past the strangeness of hiking, it’s actually overall a great experience in the kindness of strangers. The fact is, most times when people pull over to help us out with a lift, they are doing so because they feel sorry for us. Generally they are really nice people, and often it isn’t just the ride that they give us. Without rambling on anymore, I’m going to list the top experiences:

Best Hikes
-From Windhoek to Swakopmund for the 2012 marathon. We got a ride with this really nice guy who worked with mining in some way. He bought the three of us cooldrinks and could not stop talking about his new wife, who he was obsessed with [it was adorable]. Also at the end of the hike he gave us each a gemstone, and his number in case we wanted to meet up or stay at his house later on in Swakop! So awesome!
-From Windhoek to Rundu [this is 700 kilometers!!!! Incredibly lucky!] Nice German guy who stopped in Otjiwarango to buy us lunch, then got us cooldrink in the next town. Played the same loop of weird Afrikaans music the whole ride, but his car was so nice and air-conditioned, and he was the sweetest old man!
-From Otjiwarango to Windhoek when we were in this amazing car with a Namibian guy and his mom!! Seriously the gages were in miles per hour, there were movie screens in the back of the seats, and it was an automatic – he said it was 1.2 million Nam dollars! He picked up two of the four of us waiting for a hike, then after driving maybe 100 meters he felt bad about the other two so we turned around and got them as well. He took us directly to the hike point south from Windhoek, and even tried to give us money when we got out!
-Most rides that gave us food/drink could make it in here. From Swakopmund to Windhoek we were once given 70 dollars worth of biltong – we finished that off pretty fast. From Okahandja to Windhoek once our ride gave us some of his homemade droerwors, it was also really good. Now that I think about it, there have been a bunch of times we’ve been given biltong, it’s the travel food of this country! Who doesn’t love game jerky?! Chili bites, yum.

Weirdest Hikes
-From Tsumeb to Omuthiya, three of us were crammed into the back of a closed bakkie with four other Namibians and what seemed like ALL their belongings. One of the ladies was speaking in a nonstop stream to us, but it was impossible to understand because half of what she was saying was in Oshiwambo, which none of us spoke. She became obsessed with Mo, to the point that Mo pretended to be asleep all while she started shouting MAUREEN, MAUREEN, I will come visit you in your village!!!! When the bakkie pulled over to stop for a few minutes we made a run for it to find another hike while the crazy lady went to the bathroom
-From Luderitz to Keetmans with two other people, in the back of a police/prison car, pretty sure it was in the space for prisoners [the hike point in Luderitz is right next to the prison]. It was actually pretty nice, we had a table in between the benches we were sitting on.

Worst Hikes:
-From Otjiwarango to Windhoek, a bunch of us were in a really big van with this Afrikaner lady who would not stop with her racist rants. The words that came out of her mouth describing the people in this country were heinous. So glad I wasn’t in the front seat having to respond to her.
-From Otjiwarango to Windhoek [different time], this time I was in the front seat with a racist Afrikaner ranting and asking me how could I possibly teach those little black children. These were not the only times I had rides with racist ranters either, but those were always the most unpleasant rides.
-From Rehoboth to Keetmanshoop, in the back of a mail carrier truck. This probably fits into the top 5 scariest experiences I’ve had here, I don’t think we realized what we were doing until it was too late, but we were getting desperate for a lift. We hopped into the back of this truck without realizing that it was pitch black, there were four other Namibians crammed into this small space, and I thought I was going to suffocate. The driver pulled off the rubber sealer on the door so that we would get an air-flow. It was stifling hot and not nice.
-Any hikes with the following: a lorrie [truck], both times I’ve done this the drivers have been creepy and they also go really really slow; with people drinking and driving, again did this two times, didn’t realize they were drinking until we were already on the way, luckily there aren’t many cars on the road in the south to hit…

In Sum,
if you are still reading this somehow [you must be really bored at work today!]:

 Get to talk to some really friendly and interesting people. Sometimes great conversations, solid human interaction, point of peace corps
 If people don’t want to talk, generally you get to listen to some quality namjams
 Often in much more comfortable private vehicles.
 Generally don’t have to pay, or pay much less than the public transportation rate
 You never know what kind of person is picking you up. They could be unsafe. Driver could be drinking and driving. Occasionally you have to listen to racist Afrikaners.
 Not as reliable – you could end up not getting a ride/stuck somewhere

 You will get to where you need to go… eventually
 Your personal space is more than likely to be invaded
 Odds are high the combi will break down at some point
 You are guaranteed to be late to your destination
 It will be hot
 Safety standards are almost always lower than required [what are safety belts?!?!]
 Way more expensive than they should be, given the quality of the transportation
Your ears will hurt a lot from the music being blasted at inhuman levels

I can’t wait to not deal with this madness ever again!!!!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Luderitz is No More :(

Last week, in the stress of getting 50 girls organized to go on our girls group camping trip, I was informed that I don't live in Luderitz anymore. Immediately I had to drop what I was doing and see what was going on, and while I understand the reasoning, I'm actually pretty saddened by what has happened! As many people who are familiar with Namibia know, there are still remnants of the colonial era all through this country, and it is something that the government is trying to get rid of actively. Luderitz [my town's name] and Caprivi [the region's name in the northeast of the country] are both the surnames of important German figures who played a role here when Namibia was a German Colony. So last week it was announced that the Caprivi Region will now be known as the Zambezi Region, the Kavango Region will now be split into two, Kavango East and Kavango West, the Karas Region [where I live], will now be the //Karas Region <-- those backslashes are a click, in the KKG, or Damara/Nama language, AND my beautiful Luderitz is now to be called !NamiNüs. WHAT?!?!?! Once again, the exclamation point and the equal sign represent two more of the clicks in KKG. Suddenly I couldn't even properly pronounce the name of the town I've been living in for two years! Well, if you can sense how upset I am about this, you can probably imagine the reaction of the rest of the people in this town, who've spent their lives here, Buchters to the core. They are NOT HAPPY, to put it lightly. I'm not sure what the future will bring in terms of adoption of this name, but at the present it's looking like people will still call this town Luderitz. At least once every morning this week in my staff meeting someone has clicked a stream of incorrect clicks and said 'Naminus' in a weird way to make fun of it, so the reception has not been great. 

Anyway, changing the name of this town is actually going to be a huge headache for everyone at the end of the day, changing the maps, road signs, all publications that include Luderitz... not to mention the fact that this town is geared to be a tourist destination, so all the hotels/tour operators have a lot of work in store for them. 

It seems that the biggest reason that people are unhappy is because they feel as if they didn't have a say at all in this change, nor did they see it coming so abruptly [although there have been some talks of it happening]. Some forewarning probably would have been wise, for people to have gotten used to the idea, and for practical purposes, as I would currently re-direct you to my post further down, where you can see the MASSIVE Luderitz Sign that was just set up a couple months ago... ay jure. 
One of oh-so-many signs that will need to be changed.

If you want to read more about the town's reaction to this change: Buchters In Revolt

We did it! Group 34's COS Conference

It wouldn't officially be over unless we got certificates! Group 34 on our last day together!

A couple weeks ago I headed up to Windhoek for my final Peace Corps Conference! It was our Close of Service Conference [or COS in the PC world of abbreviations], and the last time that our whole group will probably ever be together again. The two days were filled with sessions looking to the future in terms of job searching, networking, a career panel, and putting elements of our service on a resume [that's going to be difficult], in addition to standard admin and medical sessions. And since it was our last time together, PC had our group go the extra step and cross that line in knowing WAY too much about each other, in the form of the dreaded stool sample, which we received a detailed e-mail regarding prior to our arrival [one of the funnier e-mails I've ever read]. Each morning everyone hopped into the combi with a small brown paper bag... of their poop. Suffice it to say that this was a significant topic of conversation, as the office needed 3 samples from each person to make sure we aren't swarming with parasites/amoebas/any other thing like that. Apart from that experience, it was an awesome week and way to say goodbye to the amazing people I came to this country with 2 years ago. Out of 38 we still have 32 people here [and we only lost 4 of those 6 who left in the past few months!]. We are not only the oldest, but also the biggest group of Volunteers in Namibia! Well, not counting our replacements, who got here a few days after this conference ended. Time has gone by so fast! I still have some things to check off my list before I go, lots to do before I'm out of here in 6 weeks, let's finish this right NAM!

Our last night out in Windhoek. I'm going to miss these crazy people so much!!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Veld School, Round Two

A few weeks ago I once again accompanied my learners to the Veld School in Aus – an outward bound/life skills kind of program, run by a well-meaning but very strict man, Om Dion. I wasn’t quite looking forward to the week, because my memories of last year were not so nice – freezing cold, not bringing any snacks [very dumb on my part], being surrounded by naughty children 24/7, and most importantly, the scariest experience of my life thus far, climbing a mountain in the pitch black, no flashlights or anything, all while children tried to hold on to me and I tried not to be the first person to fall to their death. That said, this year the Veld School was a breeze! I remembered to bring snacks, it takes A LOT for naughty kids to get the best of me nowadays, and I brought all the warm clothes I have in Namibia. PLUS, I didn’t have to climb the mountain again!!!! The other veteran teacher and I were beyond relieved when Om Dion said we didn’t have to climb it since we’d already done it once – surviving the first time was lucky, going a second would have tempted fate. Thank goodness!

Team Cheetah dropped off in the veld... notice that only
one of the boys is actually trying to use some map skills!
They're in for a long night.
The drama continued to be heaped onto the kids prior to their veld excursion. They learned their map skills, and then were told to remember to put towels around their necks for the hike, because when leopards attack they go for the neck. I know this was said partially in jest, to see how gullable the kids were [very much so, most of them had their towels around their necks the whole time], but the day we got there Dion told the teachers that a shepherd had actually just barely escaped a leopard a week prior. There really are leopards, hyenas, and snakes in the area, and I would not want to be alone in the veld at night! Good thing groups of 12 year olds are too loud/cumbersome to be attacked! At the final lunch before they were dropped off, Dion told the kids they could save the bones of the oryx meat we had eaten, in case the hyenas came for them, so they could throw them to the animals and run in the opposite direction. All of a sudden the girls started to dash for the bones on the boys’ plates [they had been sent to run up the mountain for being too loud]! The kids survived their adventures through the bush, climbing the mountain, and not getting dinner for the night because they failed to find the food vouchers hidden for their respective teams at their coordinates.

Teamwork competition day - they could have just stepped over the
stones to get to the other side, but they didn't listen closely
to the directions! Most ended up trying to high jump over the wire!
This year the girls were the ones causing all the problems, and the teacher from the other school in Luderitz that was with us, who was also my roomate for the week, was really driven crazy by their antics! The girls were passing notes to the boys, and were caught playing spin the bottle even! Middle School drama. I think the biggest reason, among the many others, that I enjoyed the camp more this year, was that I understand Afrikaans so much better a year later. The majority of the camp is conducted in Afrikaans, if not by the instructor, then basically the whole time by everyone else, learners and teachers. It was definitely a week where I realized how much I really understand, even if I choose not to speak it to my kids.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Daytrip to LESOTHO!

See that curving mud/dirt road? That's what Lesotho's roads look like -
a bit of an adventure to drive on! 
Finally made some time to write about this! On the last day of my May holiday we were persuaded to go on a daytrip to Lesotho – and it was awesome. After driving an hour or so we started into the mountains, where the roads became noticeably worse and the fog very thick. Half an hour in we reached the border post. The 8 of us stood shivering in line and ran back to the bus as soon as our passports were stamped. We were then informed that there was no border post on the Lesotho side. You can stamp out of South Africa, but you don’t get to stamp into Lesotho, at least at this border! Apparently the building on the Lesotho side was washed away at some point… that might have been made up by the tour guide, but it’s totally possible – I think it’s relatively rare for there not to be a customs/immigration post to stamp you into a country!

Anyway, once that was sorted out we we really in the mountains, and as we drove through the twists and turns our guide gave us a little background on the country we were now in. Lesotho is also called the mountain kingdom, and it is in fact the highest elevated country in the world. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s a landlocked little country completely surrounded by South Africa, and the vast majority of the population are farmers. While we were listening to this man speak I couldn’t help but get distracted by the quickly deteriorating road situation. After about 10 minutes we had reached the end of the tar road, and were now driving on mud. This wasn’t a back road, this was the main road of the country, and it was dirt/rock/mud. I wish I’d been able to take pictures of this, but it was by far the worst road I’ve ever had the experience of driving over, it was really bumpy almost the entire time we were in the car.

People in Lesotho are known for the blankets they drape over themselves
to stay warm in the cold weather! 
We arrived at the local school, which the backpackers we were with supports, and we were told that it was a holiday in the country so the other schools nearby had all gathered together to celebrate. This would probably explain the number of kids who stared at these tourists with a mixture of awe and fear. When we tried to speak to them we got mostly no response. Realizing the celebrations wouldn’t be starting for a while – this is Africa time after all – we left for our lunchtime hike into the mountains. Once at the top of one of the mountains our guide pointed out San paintings in the rock, apparently they can be found all over the area. There are many in Namibia as well! On our way back to the school we noticed several huts, and were informed that it is very rare to find power and running water anywhere in the country. Someone had some level of power though, as we passed a shebeen playing loud music!

Lesotho traditional healer explaining the purpose of what he is wearing
Back at the school we waited and waited and waited some more. Slowly people arranged themselves and the kids started with role plays. Kids LOVE role plays in my experience in Namibia, and Lesotho children found them equally entertaining. However, since we understand exactly 0 Sesotho words, realizing these would be continuing for the forseeable future we moved on. Our next stop was the traditional healer. He was really interesting to listen to. He uses traditional remedies to heal ailments that villagers visit him about – headaches, back pain, stomach pain, really anything he said. He became a healer when he started having visions. The traditional healers in this area communicate the ailments of their patients to the spirits, and then come up with the natural remedies. When he decided to follow the calling of becoming a healer he had to be trained, and initiated by killing a goat and drinking its blood. One thing that I found worth note was his response when one of the people in our group asked him what he does when he gets sick – does he visit the other healer in the village? He said maybe, or he would go to a western doctor. It was really cool to see that he understood the benefits of western medicine and didn’t have any problems with it.

We ended our visit at another house, where we tried traditional food. This food was very similar to traditional Owambo food – porridge [less sandy] and traditional spinach. While the non-PCV half of the group each tasted a bite of the food and had had enough, my group saw a plate still full of food and took the chance to finish it off handily, accustomed to the balling up the porridge with our hands and dipping it into the spinach. Yum! A perfect way to end the day! A lot of elements of this visit were similar to my experiences visiting rural Namibia, and I think the tour guide did an excellent job introducing people to what life looks like for someone in Lesotho.

Onward to spending the night at the airport and coming home to Nam!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Crazy for Crayfish!

DPS learners who participated in opening ceremonies.
They're called drummies. Look at those fancy outfits!!
Two weeks ago was the biggest event Luderitz has each year – the annual Crayfish Festival. Normally held over Easter weekend, so as to attract the most visitors to such a remote location, this year it was pushed back. The reason for this was to accommodate the Luderitz Town Council, which was hosting the town councils from all over Namibia for a series of sporting games throughout the week. At first I thought this was a pretty selfish move of the Town Council – truly few tourists would be able to get to Luderitz without at least a long weekend, so how could they justify moving the only well known event to a random weekend at the end of May?! Turns out, these games they were hosting were actually pretty big. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – when given an opportunity to miss work for a week to go watch people play soccer/netball/other assorted sports, what person working at a town council would say no? And obviously the opening parade would begin at 10:30 on a Wednesday morning, RIGHT in front of Diaz Primary School in the middle of the location, just as we started up classes after the break. My classroom, right next to the office, is prime viewing for any action on the street. I thought I could handle the chaos, having gotten everyone seated and started on their work, but all bets were off when someone spotted horses. I have never in my life seen people so excited about horses. My learners were all at the windows screaming with joy to see the six horses on display, being ridden by the people at the front of the line. In this country at least, horses aren’t really ever seen, which explains the enthusiasm from the kids. This is a country of cows and goats, and sometimes assorted antelope, but not at all of the most commonplace animal in the US. So funny! My colleague in the office luckily managed to convince the principal to let the kids swarm the front gate to watch the parade go by.

I am obsessed with this sign.
Anyway, because of these games Town Council was very on top of making Luderitz look nice and getting it in shape for lots of visitors. Hence the creation of a sidewalk from town to the location, new paint on several previously neglected spots in town, and, the biggest cause of talk, a Hollywood-esque sign on the mountains welcoming visitors into town! My friend Sarah and I hiked over the mountain behind my house to take some pictures with it.
The Paella! All things seafood in there, so delicious!

The weekend was filled with so much delicious food – crayfish, braai meat, and most notably, a massive plate of paella for only N10 dollars! Also the Luderitz PCVs got to have drinks with the US Ambassador, who was in town for the Festival as well! It was so interesting to hear about her experience in Namibia in addition to the other countries she has worked in throughout her career with the Foreign Service. All in all, it was definitely a successful weekend!