Sunday, January 29, 2012

Strange Happenings

Soooo last weekend apart from intense amounts of sleep, and a 2 hr stint as the only customer at the internet café [why yes, patrons, I did order a brownie sundae all for myself, it was delicious too! I know your stares were more of longing and jealousy than judgment], I went for a hike! This is out of character for me, yet more and more I keep hearing myself say that I’ve hiked… kind of weird. The reason I went on said hike was to see this cool place outside town called 2nd Lagoon. So at around 11, Megan and Leah [the two other PCVs in town from Group 33] and I set out for what turned out to be an adventure. They wanted to take a slightly easier path and avoid climbing up, down, and across the cliffs, so we took a different route. Unfortunately we double-guessed ourselves, and thinking we’d gone too far, turned around and backtracked the other way up the cliffs. I wish I could have taken pictures up there because the rocks were really interesting looking, lots of colors and awesome striping! Also I found some kind of antelope horn! Sadly I learned my lesson of not cliff climbing with camera the hard way… the first time I hiked the cliff behind my house I definitely fell on the way down, camera in hand. It survived, but did sustain injuries to the screen, so now I take mental images and focus on where I’m stepping! Suffice it to say, I felt like I was on the moon because that’s really what it looked like! All the time I trailed Megan and Leah I couldn’t seem to get “Climb Every Mountain” out of my head, despite the fact that I couldn’t remember all the words! After searching for probably twice the amount of time it takes to get there, we found the lagoon. Turned out we hadn’t gone far enough. The sign to the Sperrgebiet we had encountered had freaked us out prematurely – it was the official barrier that we couldn’t cross to the left side of or risk getting into trouble for being in the restricted area. Anyway, this lagoon was awesome, and we watched the water come in as we ate snacks on the rocks, and laughed at the seagulls getting blown away by the intensity of the wind. It was a great way to spend a Sunday, though my legs are extremely sore and I did manage to get sunburned in some weird spots, despite my sunscreen application. Ouch. It was worth it! 

On a different note, the Friday before this hike,  the Governor of the Karas region called all the teachers from the region to a meeting in Keetmanshoop. I was literally picked up at 3:45 am to make it to the bus, yikes. It was definitely cool to see how many teachers are in this region, at least for the public schools. The Governor highlighted successes [my principal was mentioned for continuously advocating for a new high school to be built in Luderitz!], and made a speech about the state of education in Namibia [not to his liking]. He referred to the Asian system of schooling and how advanced it is, and then went on to say that Namibia must not strive to emulate the US Education System, because even it is dated to the 19th century, so if that is true where is the Namibian Education System?? He estimated 13/14th century. In my opinion, the Asian system is not looking like a possibility here, there are way too many cultural differences in values for that to happen. However, the governor did say that he is going to try to change the hours of the school day to make it longer, which I agree with strongly. Right now it’s from 7:30 to 1:30, that’s it. Most other schools I’ve heard of in Namibia offer afternoon study, but my school doesn’t. The governor said he is going to try to extend the hours until 4. He went on to say that 20 cents out of every dollar spent here goes to the education system, and of that huge amount, 80-90 percent of it is allocated to teacher salaries, which seems slightly outrageous. He stated that if this is to be the case, he expects student performance to be much higher. He also said that poverty is a choice, which was definitely a statement that teachers from my school did not react positively to. There are so many structural factors in play in this country that it’s really impossible to call poverty a ‘choice.’ For his ideas to take effect it seems as if the system will really need to shift to being learner-centered, rather than revolving around the needs of teachers [my opinion]. Hmmm, lots to think about. 
I'll talk about the super strange first few weeks of school another time, but for now lets just say, of the first 9 days of school the kids came to my classroom for a grand total of 2 days... nambles. 
Another important update: somehow I have ended up the head coach for one of the three track and field teams [go blue house!], despite the fact that I know nothing about track and field events and can’t run. Even though the other two blue house coaches have participated extensively in track events, they are a) puzzled why we don’t have a field and the kids are running around on the rocky/hilly landscape instead [newsflash: there is no grass for a field here!!!!] and b] both newly arrived from the north teachers where the kids sit in fear and don’t dare make noise, quite the opposite of these kids, so their quiet teachers voices just aren’t cutting it. No idea how this is going to work, especially when it comes to shotputs/highjumps/what else is there?? Also, fun fact, athletics are completely finished in mid-February. They also take place during the school day at Diaz Primary, because god forbid we stay after school to do something. apologies for the sarcasm :) needless to say I'm really hoping that we move athletics back to after-school activities, because shortening the schedule to 20 minute classes isn't even worth having a schedule. It's hard enough to get 40 kids to come into the classroom and settle down, with 20 minute classes that leaves maybe 10 minutes of teaching time. Anyway, more updates another time when the internet isn't being flaky, but last fun update: Leah and I made bagels last night, they were just about the most delicious things ever [apart from the homemade tortilla chips we did a couple weeks ago] ok julle totsiens!

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Right after the Ludacrew left, three people came to see Luderitz from Group 32, and they were super nice! Two of their friends from Okahandja were also on holiday here, and had a car, so we all had the chance to visit Kolmanskop, the ghost town about 10k outside Luderitz. Early one morning, the Metzs and Lauren, myself, Brett [who had just gotten to Luda for a few days], and Totty [who couldn’t bring himself to leave on the 2nd just yet], piled into the back of a bakkie for some touristy fun.

So a little history: In 1908 a worker in the area outside of Luderitz [which had been established as a town in 1883], came across a diamond. Immediately after realizing the area was rich in diamonds, German miners flocked there and a town was built almost overnight to support this influx. Kolmanskop quickly became the premier diamond-mining town, and residents built the town up with a hospital, ballroom, school, theater and bowling alley, and the first x-ray station in the southern hemisphere. Even from the dilapidated condition of the houses, you can still tell that many very wealthy people lived there [which I guess makes sense, diamond money!], and it’s easy to come up with a mental image of what their lives looked like in the early 20th century. Anyway, after all the effort had been put into building up this town, more and bigger diamonds were found further away, and so just as quickly as people had arrived and settled in Kolmanskop, they were gone. The town went into decline after World War I, and while a few families initially stayed behind to look after the town, by 1956 not one person remained. Since then the desert has been overtaking this town, quite literally. The wind is still pretty strong 10k out of Luderitz, and blows sand dunes everywhere. Fun fact: there actually used to be a train that ran from Keetmanshoop to Luderitz, but because of the intensity of the wind blowing the sand, the tracks were overtaken by sand dunes. This is really unfortunate because a train would make it SO much easier to get back here whenever I travel. Plans and construction are ongoing to make a train possible again to Luda, and it’s projected to be completed in 2013 [fingers crossed].

After our tour was completed the guide left us free to explore all of the buildings, with only one that we were advised not to go into because of it’s advanced state of ruin [the sand is literally the only thing keeping it together]. We also had to stay within the gated area, for although there are a few structures that lie outside that perimeter, it is a restricted area in the country. This part of the Namib Desert is called the Sperrgebiet [German, meaning ‘Prohibited Area’] and remains active in diamond mining, and is run by NamDeb. It has actually been designated a national park because it’s a biodiversity hotspot which is pretty cool. Biggest reason I want to eventually explore this area: hyenas!!! Anyway, the structures in Kolmanskop have, on the whole, been left completely untouched, so it’s really interesting to see the differing levels of ruin that the buildings are all in. Upon entering a lot of these houses, it was clear that this tour would not be allowed in the U.S., as some of them looked pretty dangerous and probably all of them would be condemned. Nonetheless, it was really cool! 

Many of the houses seem tiny once you get inside, because there's 3-4 feet of sand on the ground!
Endless desert to look out upon
The postman's house... not lookin' so good.
The architect's house. Only he got a balcony!
A room at the hospital - wouldn't want to be a patient here!


From Swakopmund 11 of us headed down to my house in Luderitz for the rest of our holiday! I was reminded of the intense heat of the south during the 2 hours we spent in the glaring sun in Keetmans [least favorite town of Nam] waiting for our last ride to Luda. Phew, my site is really the best! Once in Luderitz, we were sitting for a while thinking about what to do for the rest of break… since most of us had sadly already spent the majority of our money in Swakopmund. From this conversation came the best idea ever: each day for the next week two people would be exclusively in charge of fun activities for the day, holding the title of FUN CZARS. What followed was an epic week of fun. It included several braais [barbeques] in my backyard, a scavenger hunt/amazing race through Luderitz, singing and dancing on Shark Island and wrapping paper modeling, a Mexican feast, Christmas cookie making, Father Christmas coming over [in the form of a security guard], and delicious pancakes.

One of my favorite pictures from Bryfi, us watching the sunset over the ocean from the cliff behind my house, which we climbed a lot
 Then came Christmas Day!!! This day was exempt from fun czars obviously. We woke up to seeing that Santa came [in the form of my mom who sent quality American candy and stockings for everyone], and ate homemade coffee cake for breakfast! 
with our stockings!
our beautiful tree!
 Even though we had already done a white elephant Christmas in Swakopmund with 25 of us, we all decided to do a secret santa among the now 13 of us, that would be complete with nice cards. After breakfast we opened these, which held storybooks, poems, and really thoughtful cards in addition to great little gifts. Everyone had something under our makeshift tree, which was made of Hunters Dry bottles, cardboard boxes, and construction paper, and topped with tinsel and an angel! After this we went to the Nest Hotel, which is really close to my house, and enjoyed a scrumptious buffet lunch – with turkey [ahhh!], ham, all sorts of other meats, sides, and desserts! YUM. After this 2-ish hour meal we took our Christmas picture in front of the water! Also the only place in this town that has grass? 
It wasn't a White Christmas, but this weather worked just fine!

The 27th was arguably the most epic of the fun czar days, so I will recount the story. It was KJUDI’s day – one of our awesome married couples, we just refer to them as the single entity kjudi. This day was themed after them, aka married couples competition style, so they split everyone up into couples and one threesome. To start the morning off the teams were separated, and the girls were told to prepare a breakfast dish with anything in the kitchen, as long as the main ingredient involved eggs. After we prepared it, we were sent to the bedroom and the boys were brought out and told to cook whatever was in front of them with no directions. It was TopChef!!! Some boys ended up slightly confused by what was in front of them, but they made it work, and we all were brought out to taste and vote on each others dishes, one of which involved green apples and ramen eggs [actually tasted pretty good!]. KJudi’s day had an added incentive to not losing – whoever was in the lowest points-wise throughout the day had to wear a dog collar [‘because sometimes in marriage you’re in the dog house’].  The losers of each challenge incurred an additional punishment, and whoever was in last place at the end of the day had to eat dog food – needless to say, everyone was very inspired not to lose. Anyway, after the breakfast competition, we proceeded to an epic catchphrase tournament that got extremely heated, and my team of three won! We spent the afternoon competing in a series of field games on the waterfront, jumping into the ocean, and completing a challenge of taking wedding pictures [in which my team earned creativity points for our Aladdin theme]. That night we had an intense three rounds of the “Newlywed Game,” and at the close my team was in last, noooo [this can partially be attributed to my inability to walk in straight lines and chug]! Luckily, there was a final jeopardy round in which we wagered points off of a very general “Namibia” category. The question was to spell the Namibian President’s name properly – my team was the only one to get it right and thus move from last to first place, thanks to Bryfi! No one else knew his first name: it’s Hifikepunye Pohamba in case you were wondering. As we watched Totty and Laine eat dog food, it was a great end to the week of fun czars.

After some down time for the next few days, we rallied to actually stay up late enough to go out on New Years Eve. Thank God none of us died, because due to someone’s desire to see fireworks, we all climbed the massive cliff behind my house in complete darkness before midnight struck… we only saw one firecracker, we were too far away to see the others I guess. Worth it? Debatable. We then went out to a packed club and danced until the early morning. It was so sad to see everyone leave on the 2nd – it was definitely impressive that after 4 straight weeks of spending all our time together, I was not sick of a single person! I had definitely gotten used to being with my namfam, and saying goodbye almost felt like leaving all my friends and family in the US again, because this time I’m really on my own for a good chunk of time... 3 and a half months to be exact. Good thing there are other volunteers in Luda, this place is too far away from other towns for weekend trips sadly! Anyway, that put an end to my incredible month of vacation!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Reconnect and Swakopmund!

So we proceeded to spend the next five days in the mountains outside Windhoek, for our Reconnect Conference, where we convened after 6 weeks at site [phase 2 as it’s called] to talk about how everything went and learn some more useful stuff. It was a huge flashback to training, with morning and afternoon sessions interrupted by tea breaks and delicious all-inclusive meals [with dessert, fruit, AND salad?!?? Heaven.] There were definitely a few sessions I found incredibly interesting and helpful – on setting up community gardens, small grant writing, classroom management from the PCVL perspective, and a discussion on racism post-apartheid, which I will save for another post. It was an awesome week to reunite with all my friends, eat good food, and watch some stunning sunsets.

After Reconnect, 37 of the 38 of us headed to Swakopmund, a big town on the coast where almost all of Namibia goes on holiday. I booked all of us to fit into two 6-person bungalows… it goes without saying that it was an extremely tight fit. The week essentially felt like a really intense and awesome version of college, interrupted by bouts of adventure.

Adventure #1: SKYDIVING
This was not an adventure I planned on having, because jumping out of a plane seemed a little too crazy for me and it was also super pricy. However, a phenomenon my friends and I now call FOMO [fear-of-missing-out] kicked in when I realized 6 people were doing it, and along with some quality peer pressure of course I gave in. So glad I did, because it was epic! The instructors were a little too cavalier for me about the whole safety and advising on how to jump out of a plane thing, but somehow I remained abnormally calm until my jumping buddy Chris and I got into the plane and we started rising thousands of feet into the air. When the door opened and we put our legs over the edge, oh my goodness I can’t describe that feeling! But then the JUMP – the 30-second free-fall was just about the best thing ever and I really wish it could have gone on longer! Overall I’m so glad I was spontaneous and just did it, I got an awesome view from the air of the ocean and the desert, and now I get to say I have fallen through the sky! 

I'm diving through the sky ahhhhh!

Adventure #2: SANDBOARDING
As I am a confessed travel guide junkie, I had already read up and planned for this experience. Two days after jumping out of a plane 12 of us were picked up and brought out to the dunes outside town to begin some sweet sledding. Things I did not expect: climbing sand mountains and realizing how pathetically out of shape I am [dang it Nam food you’re killin’ me!]. After getting up the first dune we got the chance to try out the sandboarding with a sheet of almost cardboard-like material as our board. Oh wait, but first we actually took a pretty quality girls picture, and it’s one of my favorite pictures from this holiday!


It was actually slightly terrifying because we went on our stomachs and reached pretty high speeds. I could have sandboarded all day, if only there had been a chairlift for those dunes! Sadly, some of us were slightly babbelas [hungover] from an EPIC karaoke night wherein our entire group took over a bar and had some quality bonding time singing and dancing arm-in-arm to bohemian rhapsody! Suffice it to say trying to crawl up massive hills of searing hot sand was rather unpleasant. I actually had my friend take a video of me boarding down the tallest dune at 80k an hour, but my internet is too slow currently so I'll upload it when I'm feeling a little more patient.

All in all, Swakopmund was a ton of fun, but 9 days in an i-wish-i-could-stress-how-tiny bungalow was more than enough for us. A few other notable moments: of our 8 nights, 6 of them were nights that the mexican restaurant the 3 NAMigos was open, and of those 6 I ate mexican food… all 6 nights. #obsessed. I’m all stocked up on nachos, fajitas, and strawberry margaritas for now. I also saw a movie – sadly Breaking Dawn wasn’t playing, but I could settle for The Three Musketeers, I just had this strangely intense craving to go to a movie theater. At night we spent most of our time at this multi-purpose building called the Laundromat – it had laundry machines, a restaurant, a takeaway place, a gambling center, and a bar [where we went]. We spent a lot of time dancing around hats and singing along to our favorite NamJam “I just wanna live my life!” The whole trip felt like being back in America, as it was in a town with access to everything, and it was so nice to have a little break. From there, it was onto LudaPalooza, part two of our vacation!

PS: the link to said namjam:
This has been our group’s song since the days of PST! Also, the beat is basically the same in almost all other popular namjams in case you were wondering what some Nam music sounds like.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Let’s Turn Back Time Part One

Alright, let’s begin with the series of posts about my memorable month of December. First up, traveling to Windhoek for the Reconnect Conference Group 34 was to attend, during which we would see each other for the first time since training! If any of you remember how ridiculous my trip down to Luderitz after swearing-in was… this one was even more so. After a late-night move-in to my new house [yay!], I got the last spot in a combi at around 8 in the morning Saturday December the 3rd and was on the road to Keetmans. Sadly, yet again my seat was in the middle of the front seat, for 3 and a half hours of blazing heat, with the driver continuously nudging and gesturing to me as if I were his friend on my left that he was rambling on with in Afrikaans. The combi was going all the way to Windhoek, but I had to get off in Keets to meet my travel buddy Brett so we could go up together [leave no one behind!]. We headed out to the hike point with our super heavy camping packs, and I was so excited because I’d not yet hiked [note: this kind of transportation, though creepy in the US, is a form of transportation many Namibians rely upon and is completely accepted and common here]. We found a nice spot under a tree to put our stuff and got started. Well, suffice it to say that literally every combi and car that passed us was full or just going around town. Skip ahead 4 HOURS, when a police security checkpoint guy came by and was like ‘hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been out here a really long time and are having trouble getting a ride. Come down to the checkpoint and I’ll help you.’ It was so nice of him to offer to help! After another long walk to the checkpoint we started hanging out with the 5 or so guards as they stopped every car going out of town to try to get us a ride. Unfortunately, this still wasn’t working. At this point, I had run out of water and, having become accustomed to Luderitz weather, was unprepared for the intensity of the heat. As I was feeling really weird, I started staring at the guard’s bottle of ice water longingly. Then, without asking he poured Brett and I a glass, simply saying ‘In Africa we share.’ How kind!! Anyway, fast forward to almost 6 pm, I still felt bad and it was getting late so we decided to head back to a PCV’s flat with the same awesome police who agreed to drive us there. Just then, a combi came through the point – it was pretty full, but the guards said it was promising that it’d fit us! Naturally, this was the point at which heat stroke decided to fully kick in, and I simultaneously felt the intense effects of dizziness and nausea. That ride wasn’t happening, so we called it a night. The police helped us set up spots in a combi for the next day and we were to leave at 8 – still enough time for me to get to Windhoek and see Breaking Dawn – I was really looking forward to a movie theater!!! You’d think this would be the end of the NAMbles, but ohhhhh no. The next morning, we waited until 8:30 to get picked up… then we drove around town for the next hour and a half trying to find passengers. Finally, at 10 we left town. About an hour and a half into the trip, the trailer carrying everyone’s suitcases broke. We stopped for a while as the driver figured out a way to adequately hook it back up. Back on the road, we had two more stops in the big towns [relative statement] on the way to fill up petrol, Mariental and Rehoboth. We needed to be at the PC office by 3 to get the combi to our Reconnect Conference Center in the mountains outside town. We were going to cut it extremely close, but still thought we’d make it [even though my Breaking Dawn and mall experience dreams were shattered]. In Rehoboth the problems started. It was quite clear the the combi was extremely janky/literally falling apart, hence why people hike , but since we’d had no other options we had just taken what we could get. In Rehoboth, the combi wouldn’t start, so three guys pushed it while the driver attempted to start it. This tactic eventually worked, phew! BUT THEN, literally 40 minutes from Windhoek the engine broke down. We proceeded to wait on the side of the road for the next hour until someone came to fix the problem. We were so doomed to make it to our fellow Group 34s, who I envied because they’d been hanging out together for the past day and a half at this point. At this moment a lady in the back of the combi, noticing my mounting frustration/irritation with my bad luck, decided to say very loudly, ‘we must be patient!’ Patient?!?! I was extremely patient… 24 hours ago. By this time it was almost 36 hours into a trip-from-hell that should have taken 8! It took so much effort to hold my tongue. Finally, we fleed the dreaded combi at around 4:45, and our PC combi was awesome and waited for us at the entry to the highway outside Windhoek! Long story short, traveling in Nam = worse than my worst nightmare. We knew things could only go up from that experience, and oh how they did!