Preface: There was no Snake Pit. Just a long running joke here among Peace Corps Namibia Group 45 trainees. Continue reading…
Where am I?
Who am I with?
What day is it?
These are some the questions I continually ask myself. Now, I’m not seeking some form of enlightenment while I’m here but the concept of identity that we discuss in PST (Pre Service Training) encourages me to look inward.
Maybe you’ve done the complete introspective self-reflection and found some interesting or frightening things about yourself that you’ve been avoiding. If not, well…ignorance is bliss.
Regardless, while learning Afrikaans (surprise, that is my designated language), discovering statistics about our safety in Namibia (it’s safe, just use common sense and be in your home by dusk), and receiving multiple documents about the economic environment of Namibia; I’ve been looking into and trying to, identify my own identity. There are areas I am content with, there are some that could be better, but overall, yeah, I’m happy and open to the changes that lay ahead.
Yes of course, there are parts that we find that we like to imagine do not exist. Yet those should never define your entire being.
I’m rambling and you probably think I’ve already lost my mind or have contracted Malaria.. Point of the aforementioned, take a look inside once in a while. Might discover something you’ve been hiding.
I currently am living in the town of Okahandja, which is roughly an hour north from the capital, Windhoek. It is a town with a history. With a population of about 25,000, a nickname of the “Garden Town of Namibia”, and the site of one of the first uprisings of the Herero and Nama peoples against the Germans in the early 1900’s, there’s much to know about this new town I’ll be calling my home until mid-June.
The meaning of Okahandja is Otjiherero for the place where two rivers flow into each other to form a wide one.
Funny because it is the place where, we, American Peace Corps Trainees, meet and live with our Namibian Host Families. Two cultures merging into a larger one.
When we first arrived from Windhoek, we stayed a few nights at the Kukuri Centre. A hostel-like setting with community bathrooms and a dining hall. It allowed us to eat together as a family with the host country trainers and walk to our community training center; slightly figuring out the layout of this foreign city.
Fast forward a few days to meeting the host families last Wednesday night. We were given half an animal on a card and told to find the other half, which signified our host family parents or parent.
I searched, I scrambled and I looked over the heads of some individuals looking for the Namibian local or locals holding the other half of my cow. Feeling anxious and panicked like you do on your first day of high school I finally saw her waving the piece of paper with the half cow on it. It was Tina.
Wearing glasses, black hair pulled back in a ponytail, and about a foot shorter than me, she promptly introduced herself to me with a firm handshake. I replied back my name and asked how she was doing and it was my pleasure to meet her. Little did I know that I was going to be the 18th volunteer she has had for homestay. She got right down to business.
I could tell this was not her first rodeo. She began going over all the niceties that you do when welcoming someone into your home from a foreign country and I did the same. It was remarkably comfortable and easy. We went over the homestay agreement in less than 10 minutes and spent the rest of the remainder of the allotted time discussing where I was from.
The next night all of the trainees parted ways toward their respective homes via pick up or transport. It was like the end of summer camp, we all said our goodbyes even though we’d be seeing each other the next morning. Spence was the first one to be picked up.
Let me bring you up to speed so you can finish up reading this while on your lunch break or working or even on the shitter.
I’ve been in language training for Afrikaans almost on the daily. We watched a very traumatic video of the Nama and Herero Genocide by the Germans in the early 1900’s, which was considered one of the first genocides in the twentieth century. Awfully brutal. I’ll write more about this in a separate post.
Furthermore, we visited the Heroes Acre outside Windhoek, the Museum of Namibian Independence, the Maerua Mall, the Single Quarters Market (shout out to delicious Kapana) and then to a mall/market nearby that offered many shebeens (bars), art galleries and overall party atmosphere. This isn’t the mall or market you are probably trying to imagine. It’s not your neighborhood farmer’s market. Picture many zinc shacks, unpaved roads, some unsavory characters and a few, no, actually many stares. It was an eye-opener but as we found our way throughout the place, we ended up at a shebeen (no drinking allowed) dancing to some South African Hip-Hop/Bass n Drum/Traditional/Reggae-esque music.
The smartphones were out in full effect, filming, taking pictures, the whole nine yards. And you know what? I loved every second of it. When the music plays, it doesn’t matter where you come from, your race, gender, sexuality or socioeconomic status. You dance. And you dance your ass off.
Sidenote: some Herero people believe that all white people are Germans, which can make for some very intimidating eye contact and accusations. However, most Namibians are extremely friendly and welcoming.
Recently, this past Sunday I went to church with Tina’s Grandson and his incredibly nice girlfriend, Idonette. Defining myself as a lapsed Catholic who only goes to church when food or drink is involved; I wanted to go to partake in the family tradition and see what it had to offer. Some of us need a little guidance, right?
It went well but mildly intense and I ended up donating just because the woman walking around put the basket in front of me and I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt if I put up open palms.
Fast forward to a meeting at the local supermarket for a project with a few other trainees. Spent the majority of the afternoon working together; it’s about 4:30PM and I know I have to be back to my neighborhood before dark. Mind you, my neighborhood is about 4.4km or 2.5 miles from the market. I got dropped off by my host grandson? Does that sound right? Sure, but now I needed to decide to take a taxi or walk. I didn’t want to get overcharged for a taxi and I personally didn’t have any taxi numbers so I decided well, it’s a fairly straight forward route so I’ll walk.
I think it may be the only time I walk.
I ended up missing a turn and walking further down a road that took me out of the direction in which I needed to go. I pulled out my iPhone, glanced at GoogleMaps and sighed. Shit, I have to walk up and around to get to my host family’s house.
So as I am walking, I’m smiling and say “Hello, How’s it?” or “Goeie Middag, Hoe gaan dit?” to every person I encounter. Friendliness and confidence is key when walking alone here. That and don’t carry anything you aren’t prepared to lose.
I cross over the railroad tracks, pass NIED (another neighborhood), and am strolling by an industrial park with a few security guards (said hello, feeling confident at this point) and then see the major highway I need to get on to make the final stretch home. Then there’s the underpass…
There’s a gentleman standing, literally standing on the railroad tracks, eyes glazed over staring at nothing. Anxiety slowly begins to rise and I take a breath. Wave, say hello…he waves back, mumbles something and then goes back to staring. I’m gold.
Until I witness the two other gentlemen up the hill towards the road. My dirty underwear might have gotten even dirtier if I didn’t keep myself composed. As I walk up the hill, big, foolish, teeth bearing smile on my face, the two turn around and take a look at what I’m sure, had to be the most interesting sight of their day. One of the gentlemen, clearly intoxicated with a pretty significant, “I’ve seen some shit” scar on his face looks at me as I say hello and how’s it going.
At this point, my adrenaline is pumping, I’m poised to start a sprint that Usain Bolt would have a hard time keeping up with.
They both smile and respond.
I keep talking as I’m walking towards the major highway and looking over my shoulder. Ensuring my last stretch home is open, easy, and free of any potential hazards; wildlife included.
Fifteen minutes later I’m walking into my house, shirt soaked from sweat, thirsty, and ready to handwash some laundry that I’ve been neglecting since I moved in.
Moral of this post: Courage, Confidence, and when there’s a better option than walking 2.5 miles home in an area you don’t know very well. Take the fucking taxi. Even if they overcharge you.
Goeie nag from the land of the brave.