Thursday, January 25, 2007

Quick Vacation

After a full December of stress, chaos and isolation, I decided it necessary to take a few days of break. The original plan was to wait for some other volunteers, who were at the time in America, to arrive back and to travel for a week or so in their company. This plan had its faults however, mainly that I really needed to leave to maintain my mental health, and that my friends were not scheduled to return until a week or so after the new year and we had not yet spoken really about what we were going to do. So, altering the plan, I decided to hitch out of Aranos to join up with some other friends who had just returned from the Cape and were about to travel around, as one of the groups brother was visiting from America and wanted to see the area. The plan was to hit up Brukarros, an extinct volcano, then head to Sossusvlei, then travel to Swakop, then camp at Waterberg. So, I went with them to the volcano, and it was amazing. We hiked into the creator and poked around. I collected a lot of really fascinating rocks, which is apparently only cool to me -- but its also ok with me that its only cool to me, and a good time was had by all. Climbing up in the rocks really helped me to relax and distress which was much needed. I hadn’t fully realized until then stressed I had really been. After Brukarros, we headed back to Mariental. They wanted to leave in the morning to the dunes at Sossusvlei, but I decided to break off and try to catch the original group as they came in; so, in the monrning I hitch hiked north. In Whk, I met up with another group, not the intended group coming in, that was headed to Sossusvlei for a couple of days. This appealed to me because the area is very close to my site, which would make it easier to get back in a timly fashion, and also because I had had no contact with the group that was flying in, so, in true PCV fasion, I decided to go with them to the dunes. Its crazy how plans come about here. No consistency…
Anyway, we headed out to Sessriem, the camping area for the dunes, and after an amazingly beautiful drive on dirt roads, interrupted by a flat tire, we arrived at our destination. That afternoon, after setting up camp, we decided to hike Sessriem cannon. It wasn’t much of a hike, but it was beautiful, and there were plenty of chances to climb around. At the source of the cannon was a murky pool of brackish water set back into an almost cave like area that was home to several families of baboons and some catfish. It was pretty cool.

That night, we decided to sleep in the open instead of using our tent. At the time this seemed like a great idea due to the heat; the night however, would prove different. Throughout the night I woke to what I thought in my sleepy haze was dogs all around the camp. These dogs as it turns out were jackals, raiding the camp for food. That night it didn’t make too much of a diffrence to us that jackals were around while we slept, mainly because we were exhasted.
The next morning we heared out to Sossusvlei to see the dunes. It was amazing. I really can’t write too much about them because it was just cool. Mountains of sand. Very cool. I had a blast. In all that day we walked about 17km and by lunchtime the head was up to about 104 in the shade. I think the pictures say it all. If you ever go, make the walk to Deadvlei, its worth it.

That night the jackals returned, and made off with the oatmeal out of the tent. This was a sad moment as we didn’t have much to eat. Who knew that jackals had a thing for the oats. Also during the night, a herd of oryx , or gemsboks, made their way through out camp. I awoke to what sounded like horses galoping through, and when I opened my eyes, a giant oryx stood not 4 feet away, towering over me. I decided it was best not to move, and just watched as the beautiful animals made their way through.
It was a very good break, though short. I was droped in M’tal and made my way back to Aranos. Things have continued on a downward course at site, but I still hold some hope that next year will get better.

Lawrence Of Namibia.

Its really all about the stick.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Love of my Life

Shaka is doing well. Shorty passed away at the end of October, and was really difficult for me and Shaka. He is greatly missed by both of us. She’s growing into a sweet puppy, with only occasional bouts of mischief. Well, more than occasional I guess. She really enjoys barking at everything except for people. Donkeys, goats, donkey carts. It’s actually quite annoying, but I still love her. Just wanted to post a newer picture of her.

The sky is on fire and the donkeys are dieing

December was a very trying month for me. Unlike any sane volunteer, I chose to stay at site, in Aranos, and work to prepare for the next year and to run a few programs. The main plan that I had in mind was to run the soup kitchen around Christmas for the orphans and to distribute gifts that were donated by Conemaugh School of Nursing in Pennsylvania (You guys rock by the way, I’m sending you a DVD of the distribution, it went super well). I was also involved in helping with the newly established youth forum, a group that was brought about to better communication and relations among youth groups, in running their Christmas programs; most of which were centered on raising funds for the forum. The forums program for the holidays included: helping in the opening of the new playground -- which had been under construction since like march or so and still isn’t actually finished -- helping with a sports day, which didn’t happen, and also in the organization of and running of a bazaar, which was a disaster. It was also my intention to sit down and write some proposals and get ideas for the next year on paper, and to try to get a phone line put into my house so that I might be able to gain access the internet; the writing part worked out, the internet however was deemed impossible due to my location in the bush, there are no phone lines anywhere close to my house, this was sad news.
The first part of my plan, the soup kitchen and gift distribution, went great and kept me from losing my mind. I teamed up with several groups to pull off the soup kitchen, and in doing so it exceeded my expectations. I ended up working with a group of German volunteers who had something like 130 individually-wrapped, which I thought was classy, gifts to give out at the Christmas dinner that we held for the kids. Also, using money that was donated from KRI as well as additional food that a local church group organized, we were able to feed a tremendous number of kids, probably around 140 or so, a tremendously good meal. They also had extra to take home to their families, which made me happy. On Christmas Day I distributed large gift boxes to family groups, these were the gifts from the nursing school. It took almost all day because they were large and the amount of walking required to and from the squatter camp and my house, but it was for sure worth it. I got out 20 boxes, to families that ranged between 3 and 7 children, most had 5 or so, so to about 100 kids. This was the good part of the break.

The thing that made the break bad was the atmosphere of the village and the youth groups. Never in my life have I seen a community transform the way it did over the holiday, which here is called the festive season. At every hour of the day people were drinking, and not the kind of knock back a few cold ones and enjoy Christmas kind of drinking, but the kind of beat your wife with a rock drinking. People became very aggressive and demanding, to a degree which I had never seen. Also, its a common thing to be asked owe me two rand, or owe me food or water; but something about the festive season made people think that things were owed to them. This made the questions less of questions, and more direct, and at times, aggressive demands, amplified even more when alcohol was involved. The community in Aranos has suffered from a very oppressive past, and it is in my opinion that many of the dependency issues present here are spawned from a paternalistic relationship linked with the remnants of apartheid, something very similar to the bonds which remained during the late 1860s 1870s, after the abolition of slavery, in the south between oppressor and oppressed. The culture here is struggling to find itself, after years of being told what it was not to be, and with little or no knowledge of what it was before. Even with this in mind, it was very difficult to watch some of the things that occurred. I watched several husbands stone their wives while their children and neighbors just watched. I too just watched – its difficult describe how it feels to watch something like this happen, knowing there is no one to call, that the police will not come for this, and knowing the physical harm that would come to me if I were to step in, even when you know the person has taken enough, that the injuries are becoming severe. The men spent a night in jail, to sober up, then were released. I watched as youth drank for days and destroyed their own programs. I watched a youth assault another youth with a metal baseball bat, cracking the kids face open – this happened during the bazzar and was perpetrated by the kids I was working with, which were drunk. I thought the kid was dead. I eventually got him to the hospital, and he ended up making it through. The kid that did the hitting is still around, and nothing was done to him. These were just some of the things that I saw, though much more happened that I was glad not to see, just to hear about. I spent a lot of time at my flat. No other volunteers were around.
To top things off, the donkeys hit their mating season the males went into a frenzy, fighting and biting each other. Several bleed to death from bite wounds. It also rained on Christmas eve, turning the sunset sky into fire, which was beautiful. However, the storm knocked out our cell service for days. Luckily I spoke with Kev on Christmas Eve, but all wasn’t able to hear from anyone until a week after.
The sky was on fire the donkies were dying.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

So its been a while since I’ve been online, but here I am now… on. Things have been going well lately. I guess it was nearly a month or so ago that I was on vacation, up in Himba land. It was really a great trip, took like 6 rolls of film that I cant wait to see. Things back at site in Aranos have been good. Projects are up and running again, stress level is high, busy busy busy, the way I like it. At the moment I am down in Keetmans. A organization called People in Need invited me down to speak about creating and running soup kitchens. The conference should be fun. I will head back to Aranos Tues. morning, then back to work. Well, not an exciting post, but oh well… Until next time,

Highlights from the past month, ranked as follows

My adopted children. Shaka, bottom - the fat one - and Shortie, top - not the fat one.


An Omma. Really cool lady, shes like 87. Not really a highlight. Just liked her.

#2, but almost up there with #1

Last week a horse died across from my house, I suggested that they dig a hole and push it in. Instead they covered it with gasoline and tired and set it ablaze. Morbid, but fasinating. Come on, I live in the middle of nowhere, this is enteratainment.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Hanging in Opuwo

So I just wanted to start a post about Opuwo, but not going to write too much tonight. Himbas are cool. Thats all I really have to say. I think we are catching a hike up to Epupa Falls tomorrow, which will rock. Probably will jump online tomorrow as well.
Such a cool place.

Rockin the hair.

A little Himba... Little known fact, Himbas sport the Lance Armstrong braclets. Rock on little guy.

Himba kids conemplating why a white guy with a camera is staring at them.
More to come tomorrow... With a little luck.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Comment resp.

So, I just wanted to make a quick post while I have the chance. I’m on vacation in Opuwo at the moment, rocking out the Himba villages. I must say, so far its super cool. I am staying with another volunteer up here, and she had internet in her house; such a luxury!
I think this was a really good time for me to take a break. I have been in my village now for something like 8 months, and my mental status has really been suffering.
So, while I have the chance, I would like to address a couple of comments. First, Laura, I have been looking into some options for via letter communication for your classes. As for the capacity within Aranos, we only have one junior secondary school -- 8th through 10th grade -- and two senior primary schools -- 4th though 6th grade... Also, the logistics within the community for receiving/sending mail is not all that good. Finding teachers to support something like this is difficult. However, I do have something else for you, and I will do everything that I can on my side to make it work. It’s called World Wise Schools. It’s a program through the PC that matches up classes for letter writing. I have been meaning to send a letter to you but things have been really busy lately. I have moved twice in the past month and have been running a soup kitchen out of my newest home; on top of my other projects. Crazy times. But if you can look into it, you should be able to search for in on the PC web site, I can refer a class or teacher from a larger community or just from someone in a village that I know. I think that I am coming home for ThanksGiving, so we can work on it while I'm home? But we can for sure work something out.
To Nicholel Sheilds. I did get the stuff you sent! I can't tell you how much that I appreciated it. I know that I haven’t been the best about responding to the letter; partly due to my procrastinator tendencies and partly due to the fact that this is a difficult place in my life in some respects. But truly, I did very much appreciate it. There were a few poems that really got to me due to what was going on around me and really made me think about the condition of fear in students, both at home and here. Sending books is always a good thing. The literacy rate isn’t that high, but some students do read and digest a good amount of books. Most libraries don’t carry any of what we would consider "classics". Any children’s literature goes really well. Anything to inspire the youth.
Ok, there is more that I would like to write now, but time online is always an issue, so for now this will have to do. I will try again in a night or two.

Photo Drop

The goons of Aranos

Polio Vacs

Soup Kitchen

Soup Kitchen

Soup Kitchen

Journey to the North

Journeys to the North – May, 2006

This trip came to pass in a very Namibian way; half by chance, half as result of randomness and a few added sprinkles of complete luck. I am almost convinced that in Nam, a lack of these ingredients, even a bit of one, results in inevitable stagnation. It’s true…
So, I had been mulling over the idea of heading north for some months leading up to the May break, but couldn’t fully grasp how to go about an undertaking of the task. Sometime in April, not long after I had moved out of the hospital, (my first months here in A town I was shacked up in a hospital room. I kind of enjoyed it actually. Made a lot of friends and saw the medical problems and hazards associated with this area first hand; not the stuff good dreams are made of though) I made a turn to visit my good friends, Sylvia and Meme (a respectful term for older women, Oshiowombo) Shikongo -- the matron of the Aranos Hospital. So we were casually chatting, one thing led to another, I mentioned I wanted to see the north, Meme Shikongo said that she is from “outside Oshikati”, and that she would love to have me up to her family’s homestead. Rock.
So all was set. In May we hiked together up to Windhoek, collected her son and a small child that I think was her daughter’s, not sure really, and caught a combie destined for Oshikati. Ha, not so easy. After 10 or so hours in a minibus, packed not unlike sardines -- but more like 26 people with screaming hungry kids and the occasional piece of wildlife that we kept stopping for every once in a while to collect after ramming, presumably for the driver’s dinner, but who knows – we actually ended up getting off about 10km short of Ondangwa, in Onjena. Meme Shikongo had a brother in the village, and after a short bokkie ride into the middle of dead of the night nowhere, we arrived at his homestead.
The North, in Owomboland at least, is crazy different from the red dunes of Aranos. The landscape is noticeably marked by beautiful tall palms, mopanie trees, mud huts and homesteads, and gleaming ponds/watering holes, where women and children could be seen at anytime of day fishing with traditional baskets and sticks. The area is also afflicted by a plague of cucca shops and shabeens, or bars operating illegally with out licenses and usually serving homebrews. We for sure have these in Aranos as well, and though they pose a huge problem in terms of health, and just about every part of life you can think of, the proliferation of these places in the north is off the charts compared to the south. I think this is due to several reasons: one, most everyone in this area grows there own crops and are largely self sustained; as a result, any money that does come in is mostly spent engaging in the national pastime, drinking – two, most of Nams 2mil population is found in the north; I think the south seriously has the lowest population density in the world… Crazy.
Onjena marked the beginning of a week and a half of near starvation. I mean, they gave me food, and I was super thankful no doubt, but it took a lot of getting used to. The main dish, which is served at every meal, is mahongu porridge. It really isn’t “that” bad -- it’s thick and you eat it with your fingers and has an odd kind of bland taste. The problem is that it’s thrashed in a pit dug out of clay; the result being that there are grains of sand in the stuff. I discovered this little talked about fact while eating my first meal with the family. It was dinner by candlelight, so I couldn’t see a thing, and over this porridge was poured some unidentifiable meat and gravy like stuff that smelled like intestines. I had it in my mind to be strong and eat everything, because that’s what you do right. So, everyone is quietly eating, and I’m thinking “ok, big bites, get it down, no worries.” Then I scooped up a bunch of the stuff with my fingers, and I chomp down. CRUNCH CRUNCH... A terrifying moment of enamel stripping pain produced an unavoidable shockwave that passed around the table. Everyone was starring at me, and I was doing my best to control my face from contorting and at the same time trying not to spew. No one told me there was sand in the stuff. Totally unexpected man! So then of course everyone was like, “you don’t like? Whats wrong?” And to make it worse, it was obvious that the addition of intestines was an occasion reserved for guests and what not. Gesh. But I made it through without sloshing, so I was happy and I suppose everyone else was too. The trick is learning to chew with your tongue, just in case you find yourself in a similar spot eh.
Anyway, we stayed at the brother’s place for two nights. The full day that I had there, I spent mostly fishing with the kids and trying to learn the polite customs and what not to do – mostly by trail and a ton of error. From his place, we headed to Oshikati in a cab -- I was amazed that you could take a cab from anywhere to anywhere for nothing up there – and from there we headed to Meme Shikongo’s homestead.
So up to this point in the travels, I had the impression that Meme Shikongo’s place was like right outside of Oshikati. I should have known better. In reality, her homestead was outside of Uutapi, often spelled Outapi, which is halfway between Oshikati and Ruacana. No love lost though, I was in heaven. Staying on super traditional homesteads along the Angolan border, I couldn’t have asked for more; though a pizza would have been nice.
Almost everyday I hung out with the boys. We went out hunting and fishing all across the countryside. No Owombo boy is complete with out his slingshot in his back pocket, thought they call them caterpillars. They wield these imprecisely honed weapons so that while walking through the fields or heading to the fishing spots, one can take endless potshots at anything suspected to be a bird, or to be breathing. Perhaps one in a hundred of these gleeful, yet very serious, assassination attempts actually pan out and when the odd shot does make its mark, a mid-day snack is prepared. Needless to say, I had a really good time hanging out with the guys. It was really amazing to me that we could go out in the morning and stay out for most of the day, just eating the things that we came across in the fields, stuff off trees, berries, stuff off the ground, birds and what not. On the flip side of this, I often felt really bad that the girls of the homestead didn’t get to share in these pleasures of play. Instead they labored in the homestead, pounding mahangu, preparing food, washing, cleaning, etc. It is a very gender-role driven culture, more so than the predomatly Nama culture of the south where I am, and at times can be difficult to deal with.
I spent a few days just hanging out with the kids, learning how to pound and prepare mahongu with the family, and digesting the new and interesting culture. At night I would sit with the men and drink the traditional brews: mainly just oshikundu, engiga, alawende, and empwaka (I’m guessing as to the spelling, but they were really good). It was a bit of a shock, and kind of a laughing point, for most people that a white guy would drink the traditional drinks and actually enjoy them; something that appariently happens very little, primarily due to the lack of white people in the area. I enjoyed every minute of my time during those days, even though it was exhausting.
On the fourth or so day, I decided to push my luck a bit more and attempt a quick day trip to Ruacana Falls; a mere 80km jump on a map, yet it was a road full of unexpected adventure. To get a lift, I had made an inquiry to one of the ladies on a nearby homestead about the possibilities of going, and she said she knew someone’s cousin who also wanted to go, and he knew some person who could “organize” for us a lift. The word “organize” is used for a lot of arrangements and various random things, and it’s almost always super sketch. For example, the commonly hear phrase “I will organize for you a woman” always makes me a little uncomfortable. So anyway, this lady “organizes” for us a car on the conditions that she can go too; and so we head off for Uutopi in the early morning to catch the ride. When we get into town, the lady and the unknown cousin, lead me to a bar, and proceed to order a round of Taffles. So I’m thinking, why did we rush to get here? However, one thing I’ve learned is to just relax and let things unfold, chances are that you eventually get to where you are trying to go; and if you don’t, you might as well have a few beers while you wait. So, after 3 hours of “he’s on his way” and watching two complete strangers get smashed, a car drives up and indicates that he’s our mystery driver. So we seemingly started on our way towards the falls.
For about forty km everything was gravy; we were on our way and nothing could stop us, I was happy. That’s when a goat took his decided to take a chance with fait, and leapt onto the tar road in front of us; offering its soul to the god of random accidents. Bam… One dead goat, and a broken headlight. Having never hit a goat in Northern Namibia before, I was largely unaware to the ritual that follows. It involved however, about 2 hours of driving around on what could pass as dirt roads, but would be more adequately classified as goat paths, through villages that are on no map to find the goats owner. The goat during all of this was not so carefully laid upon the impromptu alter between the back windshield and the spoiler, as the trunk was full of cases of empty beer bottles. Eventually we found the owner sitting outside a small hut in the middle of nowhere. We all stood around and starred at the goat. A few people had intense conversations, though I suspected that the were retelling the tale of the heroic attempt on the part of the goat come in-between some white guy and a trip down the road, which they didn’t quite understand. I was amused.
Eventually we did get back on the road, and made it to the Angolan border crossing without further incident.
Running out of time to type so I will rap it up quick. Border was crazy cool. Caught a goat by the horns, thus becoming a “man” in the eyes of some Himbas. The falls were great. An amazing trip.
The End…

Friday, July 14, 2006

Photo Drop

So this is just kind of a hit and run. Couldn't resist the lure of a compute, and now im running low on daylight. So finding a way home may be a problem. Oh well. These are pictures from my romps up north in Owomboland and along the Angolan boarder. A crazy cool place. Im going to hear back up that way mid August I think, but this time im headed to the Opuwo region to hang out with Himbas; which im super stoked about. I will try to fill in the stories of these photos at a later date. Man, I say that too much. Maybe one day I will be able to use a computer for more than an hour at a time... Or maybe Nam can get cable modems. HAHAHA.

Grain Storage. Mahongu.


Rucana Falls. Crazy cool place. Was the only one around.

Out fishing with the kids.

A fish...

Monday, July 03, 2006

So… Just wanted to put up a post while I had a chance. This weekend was a school holiday weekend, and as such Caroline (my site mate) and I decided to come into Mariental for the four day weekend. Well, actually we hiked in on Saturday. Like always, I’ve been on the road a bit too much. I spent the week organizing some programs and workshops for two of the schools in Aranos. Thursday, I hiked in to Mareintal to start getting quotations for things that we need to set up the soup kitchen so we can start spending our grant money. Friday morning, my supervisor came to Mariental with the Village Council so that she could look over the quotations that I had searched for. After deeming them fit for purchase, I hiked back to Aranos for a friend’s birthday party Friday night. Then Saturday afternoon I hiked back to Mariental with Caroline. Blahhhhhhh! That’s like 400km of hitch hiking in three days. I’ve got to stop traveling soon! But, it has been a really great weekend and I must say worth the extra hiking. Sunday morning I went outside and read Steppenwolf for a few hours and enjoyed the warmth of the morning sun after a cold night. After that, I grabbed my pack, filled it with food and water, and headed out for a day of rock climbing at the plateau, just outside of Mtal. The area out where I was climbing looks exactly like any place out in Arizona that you would see on a post card. It’s really beautiful, I will try to post some photos some when at some point. Later in the night, we had an early 4th of July celebration; which, we had every intention of making an American BBQ, but quickly it degenerated into a Namlish braai. It was still really nice though. So, all in all it was a good weekend. Today, we are going to hike back out in to the dessert and return home to our humble Aranos to resume yet another week. So, until next time... Cheers.
P.S. Saturday morning I was able to go and check mail. To my shock and utter joy, I had FIVE packages from home. This was the first mail that I had received in a month or so. After three trips to the post office, I live about two miles from the post office so I had to make trips, I had Christmas in July. Just really wanted to thank you Kev. I’ve never had such an amazing care package, or packages! Your making being a PCV easy.