It happened! After 9 weeks of intensive pre-service training, our group of 14 trainees were sworn in as US Peace Corps volunteers!
The ceremony took place in Okahandja and we were joined by the Ambassador to Namibia as well as a member of Parliament. Not only did we take the official oath, but each language group gave speeches in their respective languages. Since I was the only one learning Oshindonga, I was lucky enough to give a speech (speaking a local language in front of a small crowd of Namibians and the media is slightly terrifying FYI). Then we took pictures, said our goodbyes, and were hurried into cars and kombis and suddenly we were en route to our sites. It all happened so fast!
We took in so much information during PST and I feel well prepared to serve because of it. Training touched on everything from technical skills, to medical and safety, to real-world application. It also gave us the tools to better integrate and understand the culture once at site.
Halfway through training, our group hosted a Business Skills Workshop alongside OSMED (Okahandja Small & Medium Enterprise Development) open to the Okahandja community where we paired up and tackled the task of co-facilitating a session. While we expected around 60 attendees, we proudly handed out 89 certificates and the end of the 4-day workshop!
Shortly after, we were paired up with small business partners of our choosing and helped them to develop their business skills in preparation for a “mini-expo”. After six weeks, all of our business partners were invited to display their products at Market Day which we also hosted alongside OSMED. It was a great success with music, local food, and lots of exposure for local SMEs.
Somewhere in between the workshop and Market Day, all fourteen of us traveled to different PCV sites around Namibia to experience everyday volunteer life and get a taste of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead from the perspective of someone who has been serving for a year. While not everyone was placed in a shadowing site that reflected their actual site, I was placed in Outapi (far north) which ended up giving me a very good idea of what my everyday life will be like. Holly and I, who shadowed together, had the chance to talk to movers and shakers in the community and meet other volunteers in the area during a braii. We also traveled 9.5 hours north of Okahandja for shadowing which meant learning valuable lessons in transportation such as safety, payment, and time management. Did I mention we had to find our own ride home?
In week eight, we had our final language test where we were expected (but not necessarily required) to score at an intermediate-mid speaking level. Although I’ve not felt all that confident with my language skills up until this point, I somehow passed! Staying with an Oshindonga-speaking host family played a big role in developing the language even when I wasn’t speaking it. And, of course, our two hours (sometimes more) of language every day pushed me to continuously learn and practice.
Our last practical application activity was learning how to integrate and observe our communities to get a better sense of their values, needs, priorities, and how we fit into all of it. This involves tools like having different members of the community draw town maps, asking about their daily schedules, seasonal calendars, and assessing their needs.
I have mixed emotions about everything that has happened in the last week, though. While I’m so excited to be at my permanent site in Owamboland and to see my fellow volunteers thriving at their sites during our first few days out of training, it’s sad to think about the fact that I likely won’t see my friends until September at Reconnect. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Namibia it’s that everything is REALLY far away.
But there’s also so much to look forward to in Owamboland. Since 60% of Namibia’s population is concentrated in O-land, there are volunteers everywhere. My first few days have consisted of a stream of texts from fellow O-landers welcoming me to the region (thanks, guys!). The culture here is also very rich and the majority of people in Ondangwa speak Oshiwambo.
Side note for people back home: Owamboland refers to the regions north of the Etosha pan. It’s also referred to as “O-land” or “The North”. Many people in Owamboland speak Oshiwambo which is a Bantu language spoken by about 680,000 people. The two main dialects of Oshiwambo (both of which are written) are Oshindonga and Oshikwanyama. There are several others that aren’t written. Also, basically every Oshiwambo word and town start with the letter ‘O’, which ISN’T CONFUSING AT ALL. But it’s okay, I’m learning.
Anyways, back to the rich culture. There are many traditional foods that are staples here, such as oshithima (porridge), eembe (small fruit), mopane worms (no explanation needed), and potatoes, tomatoes, and onions are commonly eaten produce. Weddings are a big deal and are usually a two-day event consisting of parties for both the wife’s and groom’s family. I finally got invited to an Oshiwambo wedding and I’m over-the-moon excited to finally experience it for myself. Namibians, in general, dress to the nines and I generally feel like a scrub even in slacks. The culture places a lot of emphasis on dress and many tribes, including Oshiwambo, have beautiful traditional wear that is worn on special occasions.
My favorite part about being in the north so far is casually dropping a “wa lala po, Meme” (good morning ma’am) or an “oshiiwete komatango” (see you in the afternoon) and watching their jaw drop. I can pretty confidently say that most people I interact with in the community have never heard a white person (namely, an American) speak in their native language. Sometimes I just get bursts of laughter but I can tell they appreciate the effort.
My flat is empty at the moment, but so spacious. I have a fridge, stove, seating area, toilet (surprise – not a hole in the ground) and separate bedroom with a double bed. I find it comical that my Namibian flat is larger than my Seattle apartment. From what I’ve heard, being a CED volunteer typically means slightly nicer digs. Again, the words ‘posh corps’ come to mind at times. Since arriving, I’ve been warmly welcomed by two colleagues and my supervisor, who are basically my acting parents for the next two years. The good news is, they are all awesome.
Tomorrow I start work at the local COSDEC, which stands for Community Skills Development Center. They offer technical training in the fields like bricklaying, hospitality, welding, woodwork and business administration. The center also offers an SME support program, entrepreneurship development, and houses a number of incubators year-round. While my first three months will be a bit more hands-off, I’m so excited to begin getting to know the staff and trainees and identifying where my skills can help them grow as a community resource. More to come!
Cheers to the next chapter.