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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Time to say goodbye

There is less than 24 hours left for me in
Namibia and the Peace Corps. So, it is
time to say goodbye to both.

This was a great tour. It was all that I hoped
it could be when it was in the dream stage
over three and a half years ago.

But it is also the moment to reflect back from
the beginning on 5 September 2000.

Since then there have been countries called
El Salvador, Senegal, Romania and of course,
Namibia. There have been villages called
Sihuanango, Goundaga, Nadlac and Omega.
They've been people called Osmin, Segnor Jose,
Demba, Amadou, Pisti, Ioli, David and Susanna.
They've been volunteers like Karen aka Karina,
Bene, Pat, Brendan, Big John, Sam and Peggy.

All those countries, villages, counterparts and
fellow volunteers have been part of my life over
the years. All of these, pieces of the puzzle in
the mosaic of life.

I leave feeling at peace and as of now, there are
no future plans, just ideas.

It will be home and after this amount of time away,
a period of adjustment. I've changed as I spent
day after day with Mayan, Fulani, Roma, Romanian
and San/Bushman people. I've taken bits and
pieces from each culture and made those
pieces, part of me.

Everything between the fire flies of Sihuanango
in El Salvador to the Southern Cross in the
sky over Omega in Namibia have been magical
and precious.

But it is time and I found the picture above of the
kids in the San Cultural Group waving goodbye
and I thought it a good last picture to post.

As this will be my last blog post I thank everyone
who has come to this blog over the years.

Maybe the adventures are over or maybe not. My
heart says no but the future holds the answer.

So the ride that began 5 September 2000 ends on
20 May 2012.

And ... it has been a good one.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Blogging from the streets of Okahandja

In the picture you can see what is basically downtown Okahandja. I am waiting for one of the home stay family members then we head to the capital. I also stopped by the Garden Cafe to say goodbye to Tony and Catherine. We have the transportation reserved ( a friend of the family's car) and ready when we are. I do have to say that Okahandja is a nice place to live. It isn't too big and it has anything anyone needs. If not, the capital Windhoek is only 45 minutes away. In Namibia 45 minutes away is considered kind of close. So soon it is Windhoek and another world. It probably is a good thing as I am slowly becoming adjusted to city life again. After 3 years in the bush with no stores and intermittent electricity, easing into the life of everything for me, is best done slowly. I don't want to lose the simple way of life I've grown to prefer. I think it will take an effort at first to maintain that frame of mind when I am back in the States. But I will live a simple life there ... somehow. So, now it's away to Windhoek. One more step to go.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Baptism in Okahandja

While I was visiting with the home stay family,
one of the girls had her baby girl baptized.
In the picture you can see the baby with her
godmother who's name is Maria.

The baptism was held at the Ovambo Lutheran
Church. The Ovambo people are the majority
tribe in Namibia. In this church Oshiwambo
(the name of the language of the Ovambo people)
is spoken which meant that I understood about a
total of zero. I was in a majority San village and
the difference between the Ovambos and the San
are, to use a worn out phrase, night and day. They
are about as polar opposite as opposite can be.

There were 8 babies baptized and I took a video
clip and so when Martha (name of baby girl) is
older she'll have something to see.
I was the only white person in the church which
always leads to some interesting looks. After
all these years of being, the different person, it
isn't a problem. More like business as usual.
One funny thing did happen that Sunday at the
end they had some kind some of collection.
Africans have pretty extensive expanded family
relations and a church collection consisted of a
person from that family lineage standing in front
with a bag in their hands. Then each one from that
family would go up and put change in the respective
bags.
There was a young man from the family sitting
next to me to kind of translate but he got bored with
church and split.
One lady in a bench ahead of me pointed to me
(while smiling) and told me to stand up. I did not
knowing what I was standing up for. The whole
church burst out laughing.
When I sat down someone explained to me that I
just pledged to give to that family just like I was a
family member.
I have to admit, it was funny.

At home afterwards they had enough food to feed
almost the whole church and I told them, this is
way too much. But of course I was wrong because
I didn't know the Ovambo customs. There were
people falling out of the sky, literally. It was a two
day thing with every person coming eating like
heck.
And ... plates sent out by kids to the neighbors.
I didn't understand much as they spoke Oshiwambo
so I just was there.
Despite just being there it was a great experience
and even after all these years of being in places
like this, there is always something new to see and
learn.

But that time is coming to an end soon as tomorrow
it is off to the capital Windhoek to begin the
out-processing.
This time next week I will be on my way home.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Farewell visiting and good works

I am spending a few days in Okahandja which
is on my way to the capital and  which will
eventually lead me to home.
I am visiting with the home stay family that I lived
with when I first arrived in Namibia back in February
2009.
When we are trainees we stay with a family
which can last anywhere between 8 to 10 weeks.
I have stayed in touch with the family over the years
and have visited with them several times. I was
invited to the baptism of a baby girl from one of the
family members. I will post info on that a little later.

 The main topic of this post is shown in the
picture posted above.
In the photo is Tony and he is sitting within his
restaurant right here in Okahandja. It is called
the Garden Cafe and I first went there in February
2011. At that time I was spending a week at the
training of a new group of volunteers. I heard about
the cafe and since then, every time I am in town, it
is a must stop ... daily.
The cafe was opened and managed by Tony and
his wife Catherine. They opened it in November
2010 and have seen it grow and prosper ever since.
The cafe is more than just a cafe and it is actually
the foundation of what would best be described in
the USA as an ... 'inner city project'.
The project is religious based and I am not going
to write on that aspect but instead, I will focus on the
developmental side of it.
The project that Tony and Catherine are offering is
one that which takes youth between ages of 19 to 29
and gives them training and skill to become workers
within the restaurant/lodge industry.
Here in the cities of Namibia it is very difficult for
the youth to find a job and let alone get any work
experience to be able to develop any form of CV
(resume). It is the proverbial catch 22 and a huge
challenge for the youth.
 
The course is a 12 weeks course and it consists
of improving English, mathematics, hospitality,
cooking and basic restaurant management plus
some time for the bible and character building.
Also upon completion they have a chance to
work in the restaurant and build up the CV a bit.
It has been an overwhelming success with three
groups completing the course and another one
soon to finish. With that a total of 34 youth with
only 1 dropping out that have attended. The one
that did not complete the course had a life
situation and not because of a lack on interest.
The number of participants is limited to a maximum
of 10 per course, more or less and this insures a
quality learning experience. Tony and Catherine
say that they prefer to have their program
emphasize quality over quantity.
With the struggle of finding employment and
in essence, a path in life, some of those that have
completed the course have mentioned that before
they joined that they were contemplating suicide
due to frustration and despair. Their vision of
life hadn't a component of hope in it.

The news of their course has reached the
capital and a few of those whom participated
have gotten jobs in lodges. Also, the reputation
of their project is expanding and many businesses
are inquiring and are ready to accept any of
the youth, virtually sight unseen. An incredible
compliment for their program.

It is funny how we meet people. They are from the
mid-west of the USA and if they weren't here and
of course, I wasn't here, we never would have met.
We both have the same goal of helping and it is
refreshing to meet people who are concerned
about the youth of Namibia.

I only will put my reputation on the line for people
or projects that I feel are good, run well and have
the honest goal of helping. Well, this is one of those
projects.

They do have a blog address which I received
from them and 'Click Here' if you'd like to visit it.
It is religious based but there is some contact info
if anyone is interested or have inquiries.

It has been a great honor for me to have met
Tony and Catherine.
It is a good feeling to see people such as these
doing the good work they do, selflessly.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Out of the village

The time came to depart the village after three
years. It was rise at 5 then sitting with Bob the
Romanian guy to drink a cup of tea and
reminisce.
Then at 6:30 a.m. I left Bob's mission
(in the picture, window of left was my room)
to walk the one and a half kilometers to the
road to catch a hike out.
Bob walked along and after about an hour
a person stopped and I hopped on.
At that moment, all references to the village
began to be spoken in the past tense.

I have to say that out of the four tours I have
had in different countries, this one was the
most challenging. It was challenging for many
reasons and for that, I am happy. I was in a place
that had needs.
The main reasons were HIV/AIDS and the issue
was that many people didn't seem to take it seriously
despite the fact that they've seen people living
with it, dying from it and still, they contract HIV.
The frustrating part was they knew everything
about prevention but just ignored it especially
if alcohol was involved.
Which leads into reason two ... degree of alcohol
abuse. So much so as to the point where people
would buy it over making the choice of purchasing
food. Some wouldn't eat for days, just drink.
Another critical issue was the change in life style
of the San from traditional hunter gatherers. The
situation is so similar to that of the native Americans
over a 125 or so years ago. It has resulted in a
social crisis, especially between their generations.

I am not fooled to think that I saved the world
while I was there and I know ... they were
surviving before I arrived and will continue after
my departure.
I have found that it is about moments in time. It
is about living those moments, realizing and
enjoying that which is all fleeting. It is about doing
one's best, never giving up and caring for the people.
I have left it all on the field, so to speak, in
that village.

A few people said some nice words before I left
and I was totally surprised of what they spoke.
One said, that it wasn't only the physical or
financial help that he felt was important but the
ideas that I gave to help make his people better.
Another who was a soldier during the time the
South African Defense Force used the village as
a military base. He said that during that time there
were apartheid treatment and segregation in
the living areas. The black Africans in one
location and the whites in another.
Through that experience and since, he never
thought that he would see a white person ever
take time for black people. He said that I was
the first white that he'd seen go over to a black
person's house to sit, talk and socialize. He
stated that I changed his mind concerning white
people.

I was really surprised with these statements.
Always wondered if anything would come out
of my time here. I am blessed to have heard
these words. I have a kind of a going out on
top feeling to take with me.

So, as that moment in time has receded in the
rear view mirror, my thoughts are that of
gratitude to have even had the opportunity
to experience it at all.

Now, it is off to Okahandja.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hasha ira mbadiko

What that means is ... 'better than nothing' in
the Thimbukushu language.
The village is majority San (Khwe) but there
are also quite a few Mbukushu people and
of course, Thimbukushu is their language.
I used the Thimbukushu language because
I know how to say ... better than nothing ... in
the language. The Khwe language (Khwedam)
I am not too sure of. I asked and they told me,
I have forgotten but if I use my word for word
translated English to Khwedam then it would
come out something like hasha (the Khwe use
the same word as the Mbukushu) ghambe hru.
The hru (don't know if it's spelled right) is
pronounced like who but with a small rolling 'r'.
But to translate it direct hasha ghambe hru then
it means better nothing thing.
Ok, all that jive about language but the real point
is as you can see in the picture, a one-third
finished traditional San/Bushman hut.
David the cultural group leader and his brother
Paulus whose real last name is 'Rambo' (really),
worked hard to just get it to that point with the
limited time they had.
So here's how I see the construction:
First, they dig holes around a predetermined
circle to anchor the poles in the ground. Also,
it gives a foundation as later they will have to
bend the poles and they need the resisting force
to keep it from moving.
Then they tie two poles together from opposite
sides after they have been bent to the desired
shape and height.
Then, they tie thinner more flexible poles around
like you see on the outside but also on the
inside so when they put the grass on it won't
fall in.
Then they add a few more layers and the top
is grass that is centered then bent over where
the ends are on either side so the water won't
leak in.
David also said that at night they make a little
fire in the center and with the heat that the
house retains, the people can sleep inside even
on the cold nights, without a blanket.

Despite the fact that the hut wasn't finished by the
time I left, I am totally happy to be able to see even
that. I have to thank my time in the Peace Corps
for teaching me to accept things the way they are
much better. It taught me to not stress about those
little things and not to get attached and caught up
in an idea.

As you can see the blogging has been a bit fast and
furious the last few days and that's only because
all these things are happening all at once. But it
should slow down as the last few days are just going
to be reflecting and preparing to depart.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Despidida - bush style

Despidida is a Spanish word and it means
a going away party / present.
That's what happened the other night, in fact,
it was a surprise despidida.

As mentioned in some of the recent blog posts,
we were trying to get the djwara project finished
but it just didn't work out.
There was a flurry of situations in the village that
took David's (cultural group leader) time. But he
did make a great effort and in the next blog post
I will show you a picture of a one-third finished
traditional hut.
The other night David called and told me to go to
the djwara and bring my camera. I figured that
maybe there was some progress on the traditional
hut because that was the last thing we needed to
do and which I wanted to see. I thought that maybe
it would be my last chance to see one in person.
When I got to the djwara I could see that something
was up and found out that in fact it was a despidida
for me.
I really don't like despididas and really prefer to walk
out quietly with my thoughts. But this time I had no
choice and I am glad that I didn't
As you can see in the picture, the kids danced in
the night the traditional way with the two fires.
It was truly a night to remember. The kids danced
especially motivated and energetic and in fact, it
was the best that I've seen them.
The drums were beating, the kids were singing and
dancing and the place under the dancing tree was
aglow with the light of the two fires.
This time, I have no words that I can use to describe
exactly what it was like.
I am so grateful to have been able to experience a
pretty close to the 'Old Way' traditional night of the San
(Khwe) people.
I usually don't get this way but it was a bit emotional.
The project of the San cultural group has been one
of my favorites. No matter how the kids in the group
end up, either good or bad, all we can truly say is that
... we tried. Leaving that project behind will just make
me wonder if we've done anything good.

But, as all things must end, and this one ended in a
way that I can probably describe as magical. To be
able to see something resembling what the Khwe
had practiced for thousands of years, how can it
get better?

Probably could guess that I am going to write this at
this point but, yes, it was a farewell party but to me
it really was ... a present that I will never forget.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A taste of the Old Way

In the Old Way of the San/Bushman (Khwe)
people, at night the kids would sit around the
fire while the elders passed out the societal
wisdom.
The elders would pass the information out in
the form of stories.
In the picture you can see such en event. The
other night we went to the almost completed
djwara and just kind of hung out.
They started a fire as the night was cool
seeing as the southern hemisphere is entering
it's winter time.
I am not sure what they were talking about but
I think that they were passing out some wisdom
as to the benefits of staying in school and
studying seriously.
Despite the fact that I've been here three years
there are still activities like this that are a first
time see.
This type of passing of knowledge doesn't happen
anymore in the 'New Way' and I am kind of lucky
to have seen an example of it. Maybe it isn't as
authentic as it used to be because the people
would be wearing skins and the such.
But it is ok, I am still tickled to have at least seen
a facsimile.
This life living in places such as here just gives one
the opportunity to see and experience things like
this first hand.
It's just amazing to be able to.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The last run

In the picture you can see Bob the Romanian
guy finishing today's run.
I have been running at the village's old runway
for about a year and a half just to stay fit.
(The village used to be an old South African
Defense Force Base and that's why there is
the runway.)
A few weeks ago Bob decided to start running
with me so he could also stay fit.
So, as my time here is coming to an end
activities like this are also having their last hurrah,
so to speak, and today was the last run.

As I was running I was thinking of how life just
sometimes has a path for us.
I believe I've written about this in a prior blog post
but I am going to write about it again here.
Before I arrived in Namibia I spent two and a half
years in Romania. There is a link on the right hand
side of this page to the blog I wrote when I was
there.
Upon leaving Romania in December 2008 and
while in the airport in Bucharest with another volunteer
named John, we both agreed that it was probably
going to be the last time we will ever speak a word
of Romanian.
Fast forward to August 2009 and while living 70
kilometers out in the bush of Namibia, a pair of
white guys show up in the village. The crazy thing is,
that it was Bob and another guy and guess where
they were from, yup, Romania.
It's just difficult to understand how this could be. I am
probably the only American in the area that can speak
Romanian and here they come.
I have to say that during the three or so years that my
Romanian has improved greatly as I have always
spoken to Bob in Romanian and he has spoken
English to me.
So I am wondering that when I told Bob that as I am
returning to the States and that I will probably never
speak another word of Romanian again, if it would
be true. But as experience has taught me in Bucharest
in '09', who ta hell knows?
But also, it has been a great time working with Bob
over these last three years. I was there when they
started their mission in a building that had been
abandoned for over 20 years. I saw the resurgence
from the ashes just like the Phoenix. I also helped
him as much as I could and felt that by helping people
who are helping other people, then I am helping
development of the village.
It has been an honor to be able to have worked with
Bob and there is the memory of that special certain
time of seeing progress go forth throughout the village.
As I am leaving all I can do is wish Bob and his
mission all the luck in the world as they continue to
help the people in the village.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Djwara update

The djwara project continues and today we
finished the platform which you can see in
the picture.
David the cultural group's leader is in the
forefront with Mavandje (one of the girls
from the group) in the back with the pink
shirt cooking on the fire.
The platform isn't exactly authentic and that
is regarding the height. The one in our djwara
is about 6ft of 2 meters. Normally it would be
something like 3 meters.
The platform's purpose was to store food/meat
and when the young members of the San/Bushman
group would go out to hunt or gather, they would
put the elders on top.
The reason for the elders staying on the platform
was for protection against hyenas or lions. From
the platform they had an advantage as the could
thrust downwards with their spears to ward off
the attackers.
We still have the house to build and hopefully
tomorrow we will be able to complete it.
The djwara is starting to come together and is
really looking good. With that house it should be
just about complete.
Then I think it is the going away get together. Only
a few days left.