It has already been over a month since I last posted, and I’m not really sure when/how that happened. Time feels different here, I swear. The days seem long, but weeks (and months, apparently) seem to fly by. I decided to crowdsource this blog post and ask my Facebook friends what questions they had about my experience in Namibia. You asked, and I answered!
Q: How many hours a day do you work?
I work every day from 7:30am to 5pm, so it’s like, a real job! It’s actually longer hours than I used to work at home. Luckily, we get half-day Fridays and get to knock off at 1:30pm.
Q: What do you do for fun and recreation?
“Recreation” is an interesting concept in Namibia. It’s not very common for locals to talk about their hobbies – but that’s not to say they don’t have fun. It’s just that people don’t really ask what you did over the weekend or what you did after work the day before like in the US. Anyways, I digress.
I watch a lot of TV shows and movies here. Like, a lot a lot. I’m also trying to get more into reading and recently joined a book club for Owamboland volunteers. On Fridays, I play netball with the trainees at my COSDEC. Sometimes on the weekends, my colleague and I go for an early run and work out on the netball court (and get lots of funny looks in the process). I hang out with other volunteers pretty frequently because they are always passing through town on their way to/from their villages. I also cook and bake all the time. Probably too much for someone who lives alone, because I end up eating most of it.
Q: Are you finding the food supply to be similar to here (in the US)?
Definitely. There are lots of grocery stores in town, as well as an open market and produce stands. A lot of the grocery stores are very westernized, mainly because most of them are from South Africa and cater to a partially German/European market. Stores have things like Nutella, Lay’s chips, corn flakes, Coca-Cola, instant ramen and lots of other products that you would commonly find in any American grocery store. The produce selection isn’t as good as back home, but there are still lots of options. You can check out my last post to see what kind of “haul” I typically bring home from the store. We also have a KFC in town – score!
Q: Do you feel safe there (in Namibia)?
I do! A large portion of our two-month Pre-Service Training (PST) is dedicated to safety and security. We learn lots of strategies to mitigate risk, and also how to de-escalate a dangerous situation when it occurs. Honestly, when you’re here for two years it’s inevitable that you’re going to encounter uncomfortable or unsafe situations. It’s just bound to happen. But ultimately the people here are extremely friendly and the more time I’ve spent integrating, the safer I’ve felt.
I would argue that the biggest safety issue in Namibia is transportation. There is a very lackadaisical attitude when it comes to driving, and most major roads, even highways, are single-lane each direction with no divider in between. You hear about terrible car accidents daily. With that said, Peace Corps has pretty strict rules in place to keep us safe when it comes to transport, especially since hiking (hitchhiking, but paying for the ride) is the most common way volunteers travel around Namibia.
Q: Do you find your work rewarding?
So far, yes! Right now, I’m still in my three-month integration stage which means I haven’t dived head-first into work yet. This stage is more about meeting people, assessing the needs of my center and community, and identifying resources that could benefit any future projects. But I do think my site is in need of and is very deserving of some extra help, so I’m happy to be there.
A common misconception of becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer is that you’re going to join and change the world. In most (read: all) cases, that’s not true. Success is often found in small victories. And many times, your service will end before the impact is truly felt. I think that so long as I improve the lives of a handful of individuals, focus on sustainable projects, get the opportunity to educate Americans about the culture in Namibia and vice versa, I’ll feel like the work I’m doing here is rewarding.
Q: How many people live in your town?
The population is 30,000 based on a 2011 census. Population numbers aren’t updated often because it’s hard to account for all of the village-dwellers on the outskirts of towns.
While 30,000 is considered a pretty small town in the US, I would consider Ondangwa a medium-sized town in Namibia. Remember that Namibia is the 2nd least densely populated country in the world with just 2.5 million people.
Q: Do you get to see your other Peace Corp mates any time soon?
I get to see other volunteers all the time! Like I said, people pass through all the time to get back to their villages. I’ve ended up hosting quite a bit too because sometimes volunteers can’t get back to their village before dark.
In September, my group (Group 45) will get together for a week of ReConnect. Along with PC Staff-led sessions, we get to share what we’ve been doing at site and talk about the potential projects we’ve identified. We also have our second language proficiency test, which I’m probably definitely not prepared for yet (oops). And really, it’s just a big reunion because our group is so spread out across the country. Our furthest two volunteers are just over 2,000 km from each other.
Q: Do people chew khat in Namibia?
I’ve never heard of khat, nor have I seen people chewing here. I really have no idea, though.
Q: Have you been on a wildlife safari yet?
Not yet, but it’s on the list. Game drives cost a pretty penny when you’re living on a volunteer budget. Etosha, which is perhaps the most well-known National Park in Namibia for game drives, is just two hours south of my site. I’m also hoping to get over to Zambezi (the area of Namibia between Zimbabwe and Zambia) and check out some of the amazing nature reserves!
If you’re lucky, though, you’ll see elephants, giraffes, oryx, and other awesome wildlife just driving from one town to the next.
Q: How long did you have to commit to the Peace Corps?
Two years, plus two months of training. 27 months total.
Q: Do you regularly straighten your hair? Or have you embraced the natural poof?
Au natural. I don’t own a hair straightener, but I did splurge on a hair dryer because my hair takes forever to dry.
Q: Have you gotten any furniture or are you guys still chillin’ on the floor?
A little of both. I have a table and chairs so when I have people over, we usually hang out there. But no couch, so floor hangs happen frequently too.
Q: Why aren’t there any pictures of me on your wall? I mean I guess you know what I look like.
Almost all the pictures on my wall were given to me before I left. Some were pictures I had on my fridge, and I grabbed them in the midst of my packing frenzy. If your picture isn’t there, send me some! I love pictures 🙂
Q: Are you a better cook now? What have you been eating there that you can’t get or make back home?
100% getting better at cooking and baking. I make a lot of things from scratch, and most of them involve carbs. Things that I’ve made here so far that I never attempted to make at home include: bread, bagels, pizza dough (and pizza, because the pizza here isn’t REAL pizza), soft pretzels, tortillas, tortilla chips (I miss Mexican food so much), cinnamon rolls, and macaroni and cheese from scratch. See, all carbs. Sorry, not sorry.
Traditional Namibian food is also great. Pap (which is a stiff porridge made from millet and sorghum) is very commonly eaten here. While I didn’t like it that much at first, it’s really starting to grow on me. Fat cakes (small bread-like deep-fried doughnuts) and Oshiwambo bread (same thing, but baked instead of deep fried) are my weakness and I never want to know how unhealthy they are because ignorance is bliss. And the meat here – the meat is AMAZING. Kapana is barbequed meat that you can find at most roadside stands or at the open market. At some places, they’ll literally cut a piece off the cow and throw it on the grill – it’s about as fresh as it gets. They eat pretty much every part of the animal here, which I’m not so fond of. Eat first, ask later.
Q: How are your tan lines? Have you been wearing sunblock? Us North-westerners are not used to a lot of sunshine.
I don’t really have tan lines because honestly, I don’t stay out in the sun for long here. It’s just too hot (and it’s winter)! I try to wear sunblock as often as possible, even when I’m just going to work. The sun is no joke here.
Q: What’s the lowest temp it’s gotten this season?
Namibia is diverse in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is definitely climate. In Owamboland, where I’m at, it usually drops down to around 45 degrees (F) at night, but then warms back up around 85 degrees (F) during the day. Further south and on the coast, though, it’s gotten down to freezing lately and can be pretty cool during the day too (or so I’ve heard). When I was in central Namibia for PST, I would wear a down jacket to walk to training in the morning. Not so useful up here, though.
Q: What are you going to stockpile the most when you come back in December? Chips?
I’m so much more interested in what I’m going to eat WHILE I’m there, honestly. I can’t wait to eat tacos and sushi and pizza and salmon and McDonalds. No shame.
Definitely going to grab some white cheddar Cheez-Its for the trip back, though.
Q: What’s the best technique for hand-washing your laundry? Follow up question, have you built up strong biceps from hand washing said laundry?
There’s a very particular way Namibians hand-wash their clothes and I’m still trying to perfect it. You have to make *the sound* when you scrub (only PCVs and Namibians would understand). I’m not sure about my biceps, but I did rub my knuckles raw from doing laundry last week. Who knew you could injure yourself washing clothes? #peacecorpsproblems
Q: Have you been able to skype with Elf?
Not yet. For those of you who don’t know, Elf is my cat back home. I don’t really have Wi-Fi anywhere so haven’t skyped with anyone. Keiana has been updating me with lots of pictures though!
I’m getting a kitten in October from a fellow PCV, so Elf will have a little buddy when I come home in two years.
Q: Are you biting your nails?
I’ve been doing pretty good at not biting my nails recently, actually.
If you have any more questions you want me to answer, leave them in the comments below and I”ll get to them in my next AMA post!