Thursday, January 12, 2012

Holiday in Namibia

So after several phone calls that amounted to what can only be called “mom pressure”, I'm going to recount for all you out there my holiday travels and tribulations.

Back in early December, we wrapped up “Phase 2” of training. For me, the last two weeks of that consisted mainly of “invigilating”, which is an ostensibly made-up word for proctoring exams. All in all, it was pretty boring so I'll spare y'all too many details about that. But, its worth mentioning a few things. The little nuggets are not always taking exams, rather sometimes they are supposed to be just studying. Obviously, a bunch of 10-13 year olds just love being forced to sit with pretty much nothing to do since they've never been instructed how to properly study. On one special day, a boy slammed another kid's face into a desk, causing his nose to bleed profusely all over his desk. Like a lot of freaking blood. But my favorite moment occurred when I had a particularly unruly class and I went to get another teacher to help me calm them down. My host mom, a teacher at my school, happened to intervene before the other teacher did. When I got back to the room, she was speaking to them in stern Afrikaans through the window. After she finished, they were dead silent. “What'd you tell them?” I asked. “I told them that everyday they can go home to their parents but Mr. Kelly left his family in America to come teach them but they are making you want to go home.”

After Phase 2, we headed to a conference center outside Windhoek for “Reconnect Training”, a week long catch-all, wrap-up of Pre-Service Training. We discussed our issues at site, ideas for the future, etc. Also, there were some non-sanctioned social events such as a “doppelganger party” and a toga party. I was fortunate enough to draw one of my good friends, Kirby, for the doppelganger party. Unlike some people who had tougher draws, I had all the ammunition I needed. Long story short, I so brutalized some his frequent sayings that he can no longer say “that's fair” without sighing or cursing afterwards. Also, props to Alex for successfully pulling of a Sam Kelly impression. I'm told she had ample help from a couple of my loyal friends on such arts as my now established signature “walk”, dancing, dip-snapping, table-topping people, and wearing V-neck undershirts (note: I never, NEVER, wore those until I came to Namibia). All in all, touche Alex Levy. Other highlights of Reconnect include the humongous millipedes that were everywhere, the Group 34 superlatives (I was dubbed “Most Likely to be Adopted by Waldo”, who is the APCD for the south - pretty much my Peace Corps boss), playing Dungeons and Dragons with Mike Jones, and helping to facilitate a session on racism and apartheid.

After Reconnect, almost our entire Group headed to the coastal town of Swakopmund. I should mention now to those of you who are not aware, the mode of transportation for PCVs in Namibia is hitchhiking, or free-hiking or simply “hiking”. The hike to Swakop was uneventful other than the fact that you drive through Tatooine several kilometers outside of the town. Plants disappear and you're surrounded by rock formations and sand. I think there was also a uranium mine? Then, you see a reddish-orange haze over to the left and eventually a huge desert of sand dunes appears to the south of town. As far as accommodations, we crammed 37 people into two bungalows meant for probably 6-8 people. Not surprisingly, our numbers thinned everyday as some people got fed up with the close quarters and left. For the week we were there, we mostly cruised around the town and admired its German architecture and general neatness and order, ate at restaurants that served pizza, Mexican, Chinese, and other “American cuisines”, hung out on the beach (when it was warm, every other day was cloudy, windy and cold), and toured the local bar scene. Some of us also went sandboarding on the aforementioned dunes. It was surprisingly similar to snowboarding, minus the ski-lifts replaced with exhausting hikes back up the dune. Other highlights from Swakop include a karaoke night with nearly all of our Group, the follow-up night at the same bar where six of us stopped the live band with a rendition of Garth Brooks “Friends in Low Places”, White Elephant Christmas present exchange, a certain contraption Neil and I made to facilitate the consumption of beverages, double table-topping Chelsea and Jess, and last but not least – losing a bet with Chelsea wherein she gave me a lovely haircut, Marist Football Camp style. For kicks, I threw in a handlebar mustache.

After an expensive, exhausting, but generally awesome stay in Swakopmund, I headed back to Okahandja for a night. From there, Kirby and I headed north to the town Ondangawa – a shopping town for a good amount of volunteers – to meet up with our friends up there. That hike was a little more interesting. We waited for almost two hours for a ride out of Okahandja until we finally got a lift in an open bakkie (pick-up truck). It was a gorgeous day and I managed my first nap in the back of an open bakkie. I fell asleep for the two hour ride to Otjiwarongo with one arm over my eyes and my shirt flapping up in the wind a little. Do I really need to say what happened? Suffice to say, I now have a charming tan on the lower part of my belly and one underarm. From Otjiwarango, we got a hike in an air conditioned Mercedes-Benz with a dude whose name was, wait for it, Jason Owen. He wasn't nearly as excited as I was that he had the first two thirds of my brother's name.

So my first experience in the north of Namibia showed how diverse this country really is. The towns are laid out completely differently from the south. Whereas my town of Rehoboth has a center with shops and one traffic light, the northern towns are laid out like the beachfront strip of Panama City Beach. The “town” is a several miles long stretch of shops and stores with people everywhere. Also, in the south they are definitely more accustomed to seeing white people. When we were in Ondangawa, after about the sixth time someone honked and waved at us, the girls told us that this was completely normal. After a night in Ondangawa, four of us hiked north to the village of Ruacana to see Ruacana Falls. We camped at a hotel lodge but it was quite far from the actual Falls. It was going to cost us each N$80 to get a ride from the lodge, but we decided to try our luck and get a taxi at the petrol station. We ended up getting a ride with a local teacher for $150 for all of us. It couldn't have worked out better since he showed us views of the waterfall we definitely would not have found on our own. On the way back, the guy told us it was his birthday and he had been bored and looking for something to do. Obviously, the girls cooed, asked why he didn't tell us, and proceeded to launch into “Happy Birthday”. I prevented disaster by stopping the singing and asking the gentleman to remind us of his name. Crisis averted. The Falls were incredibly impressive (at full strength Ruacana Falls supposedly rivals Victoria Falls) and definitely worth the journey from Ondangawa and a rainy night in the tent.

Since I returned to Rehoboth, I hosted a late Christmas celebration and New Years Eve. We cooked some pretty damn good food: chicken parm, Texas chili (which I ate Hard Times style with spaghetti, shout out to Wynne Kelly and Charlie), potato wedges, omelettes, crepes, cheesecake, and the list goes on. We also made “Springbok shots” - which are a Namibia/South African specialty shot with Amarula (liqueur similar to Kahlua) and mint schnapps – for New Years. “Deyicious,” as my nephews would say.

I'm settling in very well to my flat. The week after my friends left was a little lonely but luckily I had Wicket to keep me company. If you don't know about Wicket, he is my roommate Rob and I's puppy. He's a “pavement special” - an amazing Namibia euphemism for a street mutt – but absolutely adorable. The girls say he belongs in a commercial. He chews the shit out of most everything but all in all is a pretty good dog and is almost completely house-trained. On the subject of my flat, I've used cards and pictures people have sent me to decorate the walls: shout-outs to my nephews Owen, William, and Henry, cousin Catharine, Kalene, Annie, Sydney (for the poem about my death), Debby, and oddly enough, Mike Curtin (my mom sent me a postcard from Eastern Standard).