Life ‘Round Here

I’ve been at site for a month now, and it really feels like home. I know (almost all) my co-worker’s names, I’ve met my neighbors, I’ve semi-joined a netball team and I’m no longer afraid to ride in a taxi alone – even if I still can’t tell them how to get to my house.

The first week or two of work was a bit slow, because I arrived right during assessments and that same week the internet was out. So I kept myself busy by reading up on Namibia’s National Development Plan (NDP5), Harambee Prosperity Plan, and Vision 2030. These documents are meant to contribute to the development of Namibia as a country, which is still considered “new” at just 27 years old. I actually thought NDP5 was inspiring and gave me a lot of ideas for future areas of focus – especially in the field of entrepreneurship. I also read the newspaper a lot which helped me get up to speed with the current state of the country and understand what kind of issues Namibia faces. A big problem the development plan addresses is Namibia’s trade deficit, and it’s heavy reliance on imports. By 2030, they hope to decrease this deficit by encouraging entrepreneurship across all industries, and especially by creating more value-added products with their abundant natural resources.

Aside from that, I met a lot of influential community members like the Governor of the Oshana region, the Town Councilor, the Chairman of our local COSDEC, and ironically ran into the Chairman of the COSDEF Board (CODEF is the overarching organization of COSDECs) in the grocery store my very first day at site. One of the things Peace Corps emphasizes most is getting to know local stakeholders, authority, and general movers and shakers in your community. Being a volunteer involves many projects and it’s important to have the right people on your side to get support. It’s all about who you know, right?

In the last few weeks I’ve slipped more comfortably into my role and I’m beginning to figure out my place in all of this. In the first few weeks I met our incubatees, who I’ll be working closely with over the next two years. We currently have three businesses in the incubator units – a goldsmith/jewelry maker, a laundry service, and a welder. While all of them are clearly very motivated to become successful full-fledged businesses over the next year (they are almost always there from open to close), my job will be filling any knowledge gaps when it comes to running a business, and making sure they have the capacity to continue once they leave the center. Right now, I’m working on an M&E (monitoring and evaluation) intake and exit form for incubatees so we can better monitor the progress they’ve made over their year at the center, and so that I can better identify the areas where they can use assistance. I think it’s easy to get discouraged as a small business unless you have your progress documented, and in this way I hope to help them see how far they’ve come during their time in the incubator unit.

My other day-to-day role is facilitating business skills workshops with my counterpart, both in and outside of the center. On Monday, we begin our first workshop with short-course trainees sent on a grant from the regional council. These students have already been at the center for two months learning various trades (anything from welding to clothing production), but it’s important they learn basic business management skills before leaving to find jobs or start their own businesses. We’re starting with a session on creating CVs (resumes) and interviewing, which I’m excited about because it’s an opportunity to apply some real-world experience. Outside of the center, my counterpart and I will be traveling to various towns in Owamboland conducting the same business management training alongside short-courses such as beadwork and food preparation. These outreach programs aim to serve the disadvantaged population and caters more towards village-dwellers who may have only gone so far as first or second grade. Because of the language barrier in rural areas, I’ll be working more on the development on these trainings and my counterpart will act as the lead facilitator. I can barely have a conversation in Oshiwambo, nonetheless give a workshop on business skills.

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My colleagues and I

My home life isn’t very exciting.. yet. During the week I get home from work and cook dinner, take a shower, and watch one the many TV shows in my hard drive. Sometimes I get crazy and play solitaire. I’ve been cooking a lot because it’s basically all there is to do at home.

Since it’s currently winter, it gets dark around 6pm which makes it very hard to do anything productive after work. An education PCV in the area recently invited me to play netball with her counterpart and some friends after work, just around the corner from COSDEC. Netball, which I recently learned about, is a female-dominated sport and very similar to basketball except you can’t move when you have control of the ball. There’s also no backboard on the net, and the hoop is a bit lower. I had so much fun! We didn’t even necessarily play netball, we just did lots of drills and exercises and it honestly felt so good just to move and feel sore the next day. It’s been a minute since I’ve had a good workout. Not only that, but I met a local Oshindonga teacher who offered to tutor me! Thank goodness, I need all the help I can get.

On the weekends, I’ve primarily been hanging out with other volunteers, since I’m essentially surrounded by education PCVs in villages. I’m the only “townie” in Ondangwa so I’ve already done my fair share of hosting volunteers making their way back to the village. My first three weeks here, I had 6 volunteers and two puppies crash at my place (pro tip: you can crash here anytime you want as long as you bring cute animals). I’ve gone to the omatala (open market) and met many memes and a very generous principal from a local primary school. I’ve gone to a braii (BBQ) in the next town over and had an independence day celebration with ALL of the volunteers in O-land. I’ve had a girls’ picnic at my colleagues house just down the street. Every weekend I meet a few new friends. In short, my weekends here have been great.

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My flat here is so spacious (like I said, bigger than my Seattle apartment) and I finally have the means to take decent pictures, so here they are!

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Couches are really expensive here and I’m ballin’ on a Peace Corps budget so I’ve given up hope there. Instead, I just use the space where a couch should go to do yoga. Pretty much the same thing, right? The only “hardship” I’ve had with my living situation is that my bathroom light burned out a week ago and I’m not tall enough/too lazy to replace it so I’ve been using a headlamp. If any village volunteers are reading this, I’m sorry for complaining.

I go grocery shopping about once a week during my lunch break because I can walk to the mall from work. I’ve been asked what kind of food they have here compared to back home, and the answer is pretty much everything. I eat a lot of pasta, spaghetti, sautéed veggies, sandwiches, eggs – the usual. The one thing I don’t eat a lot of here is processed food. I cook or bake nearly everything, because there aren’t a lot of frozen meals, “quick fixes” or fast food places. Even restaurants aren’t a big thing here in the north. We DO have a KFC in town, which is kind of big deal. But fresh produce – especially tomatoes, onions, lettuce and tomatoes – is extremely cheap when you buy from the local memes on the side of the road or in the omatala. I went grocery shopping today and spent about $520 on food that will last me somewhere between a week and a half to two weeks. Normally I wouldn’t spend quite this much, but I was out of some essentials like flour and sugar, and also splurged on some mozzarella cheese. While I’ve stopped thinking in American currency, my haul today was equivalent to $40 USD – and that includes wine! Just another reason why you should come visit me 🙂

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Looking ahead, I’ll be taking a few days off work next week to travel to a nearby town in the north. About a month ago I was accepted to Peace Corps Namibia’s Media Committee, joining 8 other current volunteers around the country. Our goal is to use media to connect and share the Peace Corps experience with Americans and Namibians, and we meet about four times a year to work on projects that highlight volunteers’ work and experiences. I’ll be working more on the social media side of things but I’m hoping to get some experience with other aspects like videography, photography and development of projects. Either way, I couldn’t be happier to a part of the team and to show the world why being a volunteer in Namibia is kind of the best. Shameless plug to follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Anyways, that’s it for now! If there’s any particular aspect of volunteer life ya’ll are curious about just let me know, I’m happy to share!

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