Monday, March 26, 2012

Into the Desert

Since my last post concerned what I consider the mundane aspects of my day-to-day life, I’ll shed some light on some more exceptional experiences I’ve had lately.

Awhile back, my principal had mentioned to me about going to something called “nadeet”. Later, I told my Peace Corps boss Waldo about this and he said that I would love going to this so-called “nadeet”. Another teacher told me it involved going into the desert and sleeping outside and generally roughing it. Not until perhaps a week before I departed did I learn more about the unclearly defined trip I was to take. “NaDEET” stands for Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust and is an educational organization located on a private nature reserve called NamibRand on the fringes of the Namib Desert. Even those details I only learned upon our arrival.

To get to NaDEET from Rehoboth we went south on the B1, which is the main highway that runs north to south and forms the spine of Namibia. Split between our recently acquired school bus and a hired combi (think big-ass van), we piled in 40 Grade 7 learners and the two chaperone teachers of whom I was one. The drive was about three and a half hours and could’ve been shorter had we not stopped at every major stopping point along the way - of which there aren’t more than three or four but still. We turned off the B1 onto a westerly highway that was entirely unremarkable in scenery until eventually we hit a gravel road where we kicked up copious amounts of dust. This unpaved road eventually descended into a valley/canyon of sorts, surrounding us with Table Mountain-esque plateau formations. It was quite beautiful as the cliffs and valleys are plastered with green vegetation from the rainy season. This landscape petered out into grassland savanna with the plateau-type formations at our back. Before I have us arrive at NaDEET, I should mention I was riding in the combi with 15 or so boys who I had to consistently yell at to stop throwing things at each other and/or generally annoying the hired driver. I will say they are great at sharing: all I had to do is ask for a certain type of snack (chips, sweets, etc.) and it would materialize. As we rolled finally into NaDEET property, we saw several groups of both springbok and oryx –both of which are antelope species, springbok being small and deer-like while oryx are larger and have like black spears for horns. The road with the wildlife on each sides dead-ended into rising red sand dunes reminiscent of both Tatooine and Arrakis (on my nerd grind).

We came to these dunes and were welcomed by NaDEET’s staff, which actually consists of a PCV named Karley and two Namibians named Vilho (aka Uncle V to the kids) and Maria. We parked our vehicles, Karley instructed us to load up their bakkie with our bags, and we hiked over the dunes into the “valley” where we would be staying for the next five days. Staff gave us water bottles (unnecessary for a PCV with a Nalgene aka “Sam Jr.” like myself – we’re actually known around the country for being the white people that always walk around with water bottles), we settled into our accommodations (all A-frame type wooden structures on stilts, some with tin roofs and some with non-waterproof netting), and began to do this whole living in the desert thing. Karley gave us an introduction to all our amenities: basically the long drop toilet and bucket showering (surprisingly awesome – they have this deal set up for getting water pretty damn hot through solar energy).

To switch into fast-forward, the gist of NaDEET is sustainability – living with the limited resources (water and electricity specifically) that Namibia has. Our kids learned about using solar energy firsthand by using solar cookers to prepare our food. We also measured water and electricity usage everyday so that the kids could see their “carbon footprint”. It was nice to see this term used in a way that wasn’t an offer to pay like $30 bucks when you fly Delta. Everyday the learners spent some time in the classroom learning about sustainability, the desert environment and wildlife, and other things I don’t remember. Over the course of the week, the learners did various activities outside of the classroom including the aforementioned measuring of energy and water. But we also went on a dune walk to see the wildlife and vegetation firsthand, set traps to catch insects and small animals overnight, and went dune boarding on the last day. For most of this, the other teacher and I hung on the sidelines as our only responsibility was to keep the kids in line and make sure they go to bed and wake up at the proper times. The whole putting the kids to bed deal made me glad I am not at a hostel school (a school where the learners live at school during the term - so like a boarding school with a lot less money). I had to stand out in the middle of the valley yelling at the kids to go to bed and make sure girls weren’t going to boys houses and vice versa. One night, I couldn’t help but laugh when two boys were outside of their house hiding from me and making “meow” noises (now whenever these boys see me at school, they obviously meow). Overall, I believe NaDEET was a great experience for the kids but I’m not sure if we will go back next year as a grant from the European Union to NaDEET paid for most of our education costs this time. I didn’t know many of the Grade 7’s before but I think now I’m a big hit with them if maybe a little too buddy-buddy. Luckily, I don’t teach any of them. One of their favorite things besides meowing was asking me if I eat Namibian foods like “pap and vleis” (meat and porridge) and proceeding to giggle when I answered in the affirmative.

That’s all I’ve got for my NaDEET trip. Next blogpost (coming soon, hopefully) will most likely detail my experience so far playing rugby in Rehoboth.