I’ll Be Moving to Oranjemund! Plus My Top 5 Foods So Far in Namibia

I started this blog believing I would be writing on a weekly basis but low and behold, between PST,  traveling up to Owamboland for Shadowing and studying Afrikaans, writing blog posts takes a backseat. Regardless, I got my site announcement and I’ll be heading to the extreme southwest corner of Namibia to the diamond mining town of Oranjemund!

Oranjemund is located in the //Karas (the // represents a click in the Khoikhoigowab language) region of Namibia with a population ranging from 5,000 – 10,000, varying on the amount mining workers in the town at a specific time. If you were to see Oranjemund on a map, it looks like a green, little rectangle oasis in the middle of the Namib desert. And that’s because it is. It is one the farthest southern towns in Namibia, right along the border with South Africa, specifically across from the South African city of Alexander Bay.

The town was founded in 1936 after the discovery of alluvial diamond deposits on the northern bank of the Orange River and Atlantic coastline. By the way, the name of Oranjemund is German for “Mouth of Oranje” meaning it’s at the mouth of the Orange River. Pretty self-explanatory but if you find yourself at trivia night and it’s a double jeopardy question and your team needs to go all in in order to win and get that $150 bar tab so you can spend most of it on overpriced shots and Bud Light on draft and the question comes up as “What is the German meaning of the Namibian mining town of ‘Oranjemund’”? Then you’re welcome for the answer provided in this blog post.

Anyways, the town is very interesting in the sense that it is run by Namdeb, which is now a subsidiary of the famous diamond company, De Beers. Since the town is run by Namdeb, access to the town is restricted to employees of Namdeb and their relatives only. Meaning, anyone who comes from outside the town needs to apply and receive a pass to get in through the security gates. However, the town is scheduled to open up to the public in October or November this year, meaning as part of my role as CED volunteer is to facilitate the town’s own economic growth once Namdeb removes itself as the primary economic supplier and provider of the town.

Since the town is close to the Orange River and the Atlantic Coast, it has a mild desert climate with about 2 in or 50 mm of precipitation throughout the year. It’ll offer high temperatures of 14-27 degrees Celsius (55-75 Fahrenheit) in the summer, so November to March, and 9-21 degrees Celsius (48-70 Fahrenheit) during the colder months of June through September, maybe October. Definitely weather that I’m looking forward to having year-round. Additionally, there’s rumor that wild Oryx and Ostrich roam around the town.

I’m not exactly sure when this takes place, but I believe it is in October, but Oranjemund holds an annual Diamond Festival. What is a diamond festival composed of? Couldn’t tell you but I’m assuming raw diamonds, perhaps some jewelry, and the always popular, fastest diamond shining competition.

In O-mund (the town nickname according to Wikipedia), I will be working with the NCCI (Namibian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) on a variety of projects focused on SME and Entrepreneurial growth, attracting investors, and facilitating business skills workshops, specifically working on financial literacy. I’ll be one of two CED volunteers working in the town, with the other volunteer, Peace Corps veteran Andy, who has extended a full year; who will be working with the town council of Oranjemund.

Really looking forward to moving down to Oranjemund, even so despite the enormously large trek to get down there (I’ve heard 10+ hours by car or bus). I’ll have a few fellow volunteers from my group only a few hours away from me in the coastal city of Luderitz and the much farther and much hotter inland city of Keetmanshoop. I’m only a short distance from the majestic, 2nd largest canyon in the world, Fish River Canyon, where I plan on hiking next year in May, and I’m just a hop, skip, jump and potentially a 3 hour bus ride from some Namibian vineyards located near the inland border town of Noordoewer.

Moving past the informative stuff and into what everybody (or lack thereof) is actually reading this post for…

I present you with my, and this only reflects my opinion, Top 5 Foods of Namibia

Sidenote: These will be ranked 5-1, so my personal favorite comes last.

  1. Russians

Not White Russians, not Black Russians, not even Russian dressing that comes on the undeniably necessary sandwich during the month of March, Reubens. I’m talking about the Namibian version of a hot dog. I understand I may catch some flak from folks back in Buffalo because if it isn’t Sahlen’s over charcoal, then why even bother but these dogs have potential. They’re primarily beef, with hints of garlic, paprika, salt and white pepper? I do not exactly know what the ingredients are but I will say, they’re quite larger than a hot dog and hit the spot for lunch.

  1. Mielie Pap (Millet or Maize Porridge)

A true Namibian staple. Nothing goes better with some roasted goat or beef than a stomach-filling portion of pap. Typically eaten with the hands, pap is cornmeal or mahangu meal cooked with butter, a touch of salt and boiling water and stirred until it forms as paste-like texture in which it is then let to cool and be eaten with any kind of meat or simply by itself. If you’re looking to fill your stomach before or after a long day’s work, look for the nearest Kapana stand or Meme whipping some up. In addition, it should be noted that in Owamboland, Mahangu meal is the preferred meal of choice and is known respectively in Oshidonga and Oshikwanyama as, Oshithima and Oshifima. There are many ways to eat pap with your hands, I’ve seen the roll, the pinch and the two-finger twirl but regardless of you eat it, always use your right hand. Using your left hand is a cultural no-no.

  1. Kapana

Delicious, Salty, and potential cholesterol-rising braai’d meat. And by braai, I mean grilled. Braai is the term in Namibia for grilling or barbecuing. And personally, I’ve taken to it. I really do enjoy a good braai. Anyhow, Kapana is fresh meat, and by fresh I mean, you witness the butchering right in front of your eyes, so there is no mystery as to where your meat is coming from. Once the meat, typically beef, is butchered, it is thrown onto the braai to cook. While it is cooking, you must, and if it is available, get the braai relish to accompany the kapana. The braai relish consists of onion, tomato, and garlic, maybe peppers depending upon where you are. Once the kapana is ready, you take it off the grill with your hands, get a small child’s handful of kapana spice (it’s the perfect mixture of spicy and salty), and place it all into a bowl or plate and begin. I’ll say this about kapana, if I could enjoy it everyday for lunch without any concern for my health, I absolutely would. Sidenote: Single Quarters Market in Windhoek is the best. Very busy, but worth it.

  1. Roosterbroood

What’s better than homemade bread? Homemade bread cooked on a braai over delicately warm, but not too hot coals and then cut open, and slathered with butter or margarine. Yes, it exists and yes, it’s called roosterbrood; Afrikaans for Roasted Bread. Awfully easy to make, even harder to perfect. I’m never one to avoid carbs so these handheld pieces of warm, toasted, chewy and buttered bread bombs are without a doubt an essential part of my Namibian diet. Long live the roosterbrood.

  1. Fat Cakes (Vetkoekies)

Roosterbrood is great, Fat Cakes or Vetkoekies in Afrikaans are, in my own biased and carbohydrate-loving opinion, nothing short of godliness. Lying within the donut family, minus the frosting or jelly filling, are deep fried bread cakes that only require a few ingredients are take only a short time to prepare. However, a specific cauldron must be used along with creating a fire upon which the cauldron is placed. The cauldron is then filled with sunflower oil and the fat cake batter is created, let to rise and then punched down, cut into circles, squares, ovals, or whatever geometric figure you prefer and deep fried until golden brown. You know the feeling when eating something that is such a pleasure you begin to wonder how it came about and then you want to know the person or persons that produced such an edible miracle after perhaps multiple trials and tribulations? That’s the feeling I get when I am able to consume freshly fried fat cakes. I do not know who specifically fashioned these pint-sized cakes of ingenuity and taste but I hold them immediately in prestige. Furthermore, fat cakes can be cut in half and filled with mince (a term for ground beef mixed with curried vegetables and onions). Just in case the deep-fried golden brown crust and soft, chewy inside did not grab your palate.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I do encourage you to look up Roosterbrood, Mielie Pap, and Fat Cake recipes. Fairly simple and awfully tasty. I’m fortunate enough that my host mother taught me the ways of cooking fat cakes. And by teaching, I mean I assisted in cooking 300 of them so about after the 167th one, I was well aware of the entire fat cake cooking method.

Cheers and Goodnight.

Goat Butcher, Beauty Pageant Judge, and Spinning Spectator. Nearing a Month in Namibia.

Warning: This was supposed to be published on Monday night. However, I overwrote, got into too much detail and procrastinated finishing it. If you’re looking to waste 15-20 minutes at work, avoid a meeting or want to be mildly entertained, continue reading…

I left Buffalo on Sunday, April 9th. Today, May 12th, I have been away from the City of Good Neighbors, the Queen City, the Nickel City, the city of chicken wings, Canadian draft beer, and a football team that builds you up, lets you down, and then leaves you with the bill even though you’ve only had one glass of the house red while she’s thrown back four chardonnays, two light beers, and an Irish coffee because it sounded like a good idea at the time, for more than a month.

I imagine it’s good for my health I won’t be able to watch Bills games for the next two seasons…yet, my other football team, yes, I mean English Premier League football, Everton still finds ways to break my heart.


The past week and a half have provided a buffet-plate full amount of culture. From the cross-cultural traditional cooking day to my impromptu decision to become a judge at the Okahandja Trade & Tourism Expo Beauty Pageant to witnessing Namibian drag racing and 1980-something BMW’s drifting until the air is thicker with tire rubber smoke than the pit stops at the Monaco Grand Prix.

I’ll attempt to break down recent events in chronological order. So that A) I can recall all details B) You can skip over what disinterests you or interests you, I’m not offended if you skim C) For those doing research, you can bypass my shit writing.

I. Is There a Sharper Knife?

Last Saturday, April 29th, was the cross-cultural traditional cooking day. Moreover, if you’re still confused on what that means, simply put, the trainees assist our Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitators and Host Families with the preparation of traditional Namibian dishes.

I should mention that Namibian dishes are very diverse as this country is very diverse in its peoples, cultures, and food. At the cross-cultural event, we had a plethora of cultures including Oshiwambo, Caprivian (Zambezi), Kavango, Coloureds and Basters. I do encourage you to look into each ethnic group, as they are each fascinating and contribute to the brilliance of Namibia.


So we all arrive around 7:30am, I get my coffee and begin helping ignite the fires that will provide the necessary heat for cooking the soon-to-be butchered goat, chicken and fish, along with the rest of the dishes. The cooking pots resemble Dutch ovens but they have a lip towards the top. I need to purchase one or two or three.

After getting the fires going, the Zambezi Bream are being de-scaled, fileted, and seasoned so they can be tenderly fried in hot skin-crisping oil. Joel, my language trainer, calls me over to let me know we have to go retrieve the goat and chickens from the Kukuri Centre. I follow and so do a few fellow trainees. We pile into the bus and head out down the main road.


The drive is short. Literally less than five minutes. As we step out, we arrive at a gate. Joel opens the gate and if I didn’t have a preconceived notion that these animals in front of me would be my dinner, sure, yeah I would have thought it looked a petting zoo…just with more chicken and goat droppings.

The goat is perched up in the corner, probably knowing it’s time to walk the Green Mile has come. The chickens take to running, knowing that a group of four or five Americans is going to take longer than need be to catch seven chickens.

Joel is in charge of the goat; nobody argued. He was raised on a farm so I highly doubt this was his first time getting a goat into the back of a gated truck bed.

Chicken chase begins. Hilarity ensures. If you want to know what it looked like, imagine if someone video recorded us from above and then set it to the tune of the Benny Hill theme.

15 minutes later, the truck bed is full of one goat and two boxes of chickens.

We arrive back at the Town Hall, unload the goat and chickens, and resume duties of preparing for the day. Roughly 20 minutes later, the call is made…those who would like to partake in the initial butchery of the chickens, come hither.

We line up like children waiting for school lunch to be doled out. One of the host mothers has a machete. She will be doing the deed, we just will be holding the head as it will stretch the neck thus making the kill clean and quick.  I’m third in the batting order. First two, held by Justin and Spence, are clean kills despite Justin’s chicken balking in the beginning.

I step up to the plate, hold the head with a firm but not aggressive grip that will could hurt the already fate’s decided chicken and cue that I’m ready. She raises the machete and then comes down with a swing about as perfect as Ken Griffey, Jr. in his prime.

Except the chicken is balking, flapping its wings like it just got hit with an anti-aircraft missile and its shouting mayday. I am still holding onto the head while the machete is drawing closer to my hand as she is trying to regain grip on the wings. I pull on the head to move my hand away from the machete and next thing I know, there’s warm blood rolling over my hand and we have an airborne chicken. Quickly, I bring the chicken back down and she finishes the job. Score on my chicken killing abilities: 7/10 (I think it went fairly well considering I almost lost a finger due to improper machete handling, but I’m open for debate).

Moving forward, all chickens have been properly slaughtered and have made their way for plucking. I’ll help kill a chicken, but these hands don’t pluck. During this whole time, the goat (who shall and will not be named for the sake of humane purposes) is patiently waiting, tied to a, what I’m assuming is a bike rack. We bring out a table, close the legs and lay it flat on the ground. Joel grabs the goat by the horns, literally, and walks him over to the table. There are about five of us, four of us to hold down the male goat (I was told male goats who are neutered offer better growth for consumption purposes), and Joel is holding the knife.


We get one last look around, eye to eye, confirming we’re ready to participate and hold back any vomit that may happen to find itself searching for some fresh air. It felt like the moment in Remember the Titans when Denzel Washington aka Coach Herman Boone is pumping up his team, referencing the battle of Gettysburg, encouraging his players to come together, respect one another and achieve greatness despite differences. It gave me a tingling unlike any other.

All four of us, each holding a leg, nod in agreement and then Joel, more confident than Matthew McConaughey at a nude beach, sticks the knife into the goat’s neck. Blood begins to pour out and the goat begins to kick. We each are holding on, trying to focus on not letting go while blood empties out of this goat faster than the great Susquehanna River. Eventually, the goat succumbs.

After letting the goat lay to cool down, the skinning begins and mind you, the knife we’re working with is a Cuisinart paring knife. Not exactly the sharpest but hey, it worked, sort of. The skinning took about 15 minutes; taking off the head, courtesy of Gustaph, also a Namibian local, took about 20 minutes because, again, we’re using a paring knife that was probably sharpened the last time the Bills made the playoffs.

Goat is now hanging from the tree, headless, skinless and ready to be butchered. First things first, have to remove the organs. Heart and liver? Check. Stomach and intestines? Check. Pancreas and gall bladder? Check. We kept the liver, stomach, intestines and kidneys (after being thoroughly cleaned). Nothing goes to waste here and it’s incredible. If you think liver, kidneys, heart and intestines sound unappetizing, well you’ve never had them prepared properly. I now have a new found fascination with grilled goat heart and liver wrapped in salted stomach fat.


Now it’s time to get to the butchering of the legs, ribs, etc. I’m simply holding onto different parts of the goat so Joel can cut properly but after witnessing him go through one side cut, I ask to do the other. I am given the sharp as a Crayola crayon paring knife and start my cutting. To give preface, I’ve butchered chickens, rabbits, ducks, so once you know the anatomy of an animal, getting the different cuts is pretty routine.

Cuts of shoulder and leg are ready. Now it’s time for the back. I’m on a roll so I tell Joel, I’ll take care of it.

Took about 15 minutes to cut through the back bone with that child’s knife.

Fortunately, Joel got the machete and made some deep cuts, which expedited the entire process into about 10 minutes.


Needless to say, when in doubt about butchering a whole goat, see if the machete is available, if anyone has a sharper knife and for everyone’s sake, don’t name the fucking thing.

II. Are You Even Qualified for This?

A) Usually not. B. Sure. C. Yes, absolutely, I went to college for this.

This event’s answer was definitely not C, maybe B, but if I was a gambling man, I’d take A.

Have I ever judged a beauty pageant before?

Have I ever willingly wanted something gluten free?

Have I ever woken up the next morning regretting what I ate the night before?

 

No.

Well the last one is debatable, but god damn, does Buffalo do late night food right.

If you’ve been reading and I’m assuming you haven’t, I’m living in Okahandja and this past weekend was the Okahandja Trade & Tourism Expo. It’s a large expo that offers Small-to-Medium sized Enterprises (SME’s) the opportunity to showcase their businesses along with local and corporate food vendors who supply the expo goers with exceptional dishes. It ran from last Thursday to Saturday night. The pageant was on Friday night.

On the Tuesday prior, our APCD gets a call from the PCV in Okahandja, who plays a large role in organizing the expo and asks if a trainee would be willing to be a judge for the Miss Okahandja Beauty Pageant…

I think I know what it feels like to Sean Spicer now. I immediately saw eyes turn my direction, fingers pointed at me and my name be yelled in delight.  Not saying individuals yell Sean Spicer’s name in delight but I imagine journalists just yell his name for the hell of it to confuse the shit out of him at briefings. Anyways, it looked like I was being volunteered for the position of Judge at the Miss Okahandja Beauty Pageant.

Did I complain? No. Was I joyful? You bet. Did I know anything about beauty pageants? Only what I remember from watching Sandra Bullock kill it in Miss Congeniality.


Friday rolls around, I’m dressed to the nines. Light blue blazer, white collared shirt, navy blue pants, navy blue oxfords on my feet. I’m going to a beauty pageant, what? Do you think I’m going to walk in looking like I don’t know what I’m doing? Absolutely not.

I meet with my fellow trainees, grab some food at the vendor we stopped by on Thursday, get myself a Tafel beer and relax for a bit before the start time (8pm). All beauty pageant judges know you can’t judge on an empty stomach, you get cranky.

The pageant begins with some performances by local dancers from Okahandja and Windhoek, along with music being spun by the talented DJ Martin. I meet my fellow judges, Willem, an accountant, and who else, but Mrs Namibia Universal.  Minor anxiety attack because she’s beautiful and she has probably judged more of these pageants than the years I’ve been alive so if anybody’s calling my bluff, it’s without a doubt, her.


The contestants are introduced and there are nine of them. Each girl is stunning and unique in their personality, smile, catwalk and poise. I realize I am going to have to really focus on what the criteria is for judging. I mark a few 5’s, some 4’s, couple 3’s and a handful of 2’s.

The contestants leave the stage and more music plays along with performances sprinkled in here and there. I converse with Miss Namibia Universal and Willem about topics ranging from the weather, the stage setup, the crowd and where each of us is from. Come to find out, Miss Namibia Universal is married to an American who she met in South Africa.


As the hours pass, it’s about 11:30pm and we’re picking the top 5. I have narrowed down my favorites to contestant 1, 5 and 6. Only contestant 1 makes top 5 and eventually places 3rd. I’m content with the outcome. In addition to crowing Miss Okahandja, there were also titles for Miss Photogenic and Miss Personality.

The crowd during the whole night really provided ample cheering and shouting for particular contestants when they walked upon the stage. For a few brief moments, I felt like the judges’ table was the epicenter of crowd noise as our decisions heightened or lessened the crowd volume.

I’m looking forward to being invited to judge the Miss Namibia Pageant as we’re practically best friends and I heard they are in need of qualified judge…


 

III. That Driver is Only 13 Years Old

The day after the pageant, I’m heading to a drag racing and spinning event at the Okahandja airstrip.

Sure, I’ll go watch some cars test their abilities on a straight away while sipping light beer in the winter sun and occasionally eat roosterbrood, broerewors and cuts of tasty meat.

Some cars were modified Hondas, a Subaru WRX here, a Nissan GT-R (somebody’s hit a mid-life crisis) and so many white Volkswagen GTI’s that I seriously thought Volkswagen was sponsoring the event.

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After watching the drag racing for a bit and witnessing the Nissan GT-R and Mercedes Benz AMG C63 absolutely annihilate every car they faced, we, and I should probably clarify who went, walked over to the spinning track? Lot? I don’t know what the hell to call it. It’s practically a giant rectangle surrounded by tires stacked on one another to provide a barrier so the spinning cars don’t end up with a hood full of spectators.

As Efraim (Our Business Training Manager and APCD, Lucky (Our Rukwangali LCF), Lucky’s host brother and myself are standing on the side of the track, I ask what to expect as I’ve never been to one of these things before. I’ve been to a tractor pull before, which was awfully enlightening and entertaining but never a spinning event.

This 1980’s something BMW peels onto the lot and starts to drift around the track, fishtailing and pulling 180’s. I’m may have been concerned about the car jumping the tire barrier but that’s only because I was able to see the small-sized head behind the steering wheel.

There’s no way the person driving like this is a kid.

I lean over to Efraim and ask, “How old is the guy driving the car? He looks small.”

Efraim answers, “That is a young boy. He’s only 13 years old.”

America. Let the kids drive. This young boy drove as if he watched all of the Fast and the Furious movies before he left the womb. Thoroughly impressed, I couldn’t stop watching even though bits and pieces of tire rubber were entering my eyes at speeds undeniably unsafe for the health of your vision.


We spent 2 hours watching cars burn the entirety of the rubber off the back tires, leave the track, and then come back with replaced tires to do the same thing. I was unapologetically entertained.

So if you’re looking for a way to spend a Saturday in Namibia, get a few friends, grab some adult sodas, head out to the nearest straight away and open paved space, and prepare to watch tires disintegrate, inhale the smoke of burnt rubber, and witness professional level drifting courtesy of young teenagers.

 

I’m loving this country more and more.

 

Two Weeks In. Watch out for the Snake Pit.

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.

Relief.

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.

I’ve Arrived in Namibia and It Is Nothing What I Expected

First off, I’ve made it safely to Namibia.

Secondly, it’s beautiful and it’s nothing what I expected.

After leaving Staging in Philadelphia, all 14 of us (yes, our PC Trainee group is small) hopped on a charter bus at 2AM Tuesday morning headed towards JFK airport in New York City. Sure, the drive only took about 2 and a half hours after the driver made, which I’m almost positive is illegal, a U-turn on Pennsylvania highway, but trying to sleep across two seats with armrests jamming into your kidneys doesn’t do you well at 5 in the morning. Sidenote: our flight from JFK was scheduled at 11AM, so we definitely had some time to kill.

But here’s the positives and they are numerous. Our group consists of 9 women and 5 men, myself included. Our age range is incredibly diverse. From 68 to 23. Some of us are fresh out of college, others are fed up with retirement and are looking for a completely new experience. During staging, our PC Staging Coordinators and Directors were genuine and honest. They provided us icebreakers that would make your college dorm RA blush. I’ve gotten to know almost everyone in our group and they all have their own stories, backgrounds, and interests that really show how diverse the US is.

The flight from NYC to Johannesburg was roughly 15 hours. What did I do? Slept. Ate. Slept. Watched La La Land (great movie). Ate. Slept and then looked down from my window seat (great for Instagram story) and saw the continent of Africa. Still hard to believe I am on a completely different continent and in the Southern Hemisphere. No, I don’t think toilets flushed the other way or at least I haven’t noticed.

After getting into Johannesburg, we had about 5 hours to spare before our flight to Windhoek. Customs took about a half hour and then we entered the OR Tambo Airport. The airport was huge on Duty Free,  but I’m also assuming that’s because we were in the international terminal. Was I tempted by the Burberry, Coach and vast amount of alcohol that could be purchased cheaply before heading to Namibia? Of course, however, my bags were already over the allotted weight and my carry-on backpack was filled to the brim with underwear, dress shirts, CLIF bars (where’s my sponsorship?), electrical adapters, shoes, toiletries, and a book.  Oh, and my skateboard, which I brought as a point of interest and also a mode of transportation. Hoping for some paved roads during PST and at the site I’m assigned to.

The flight from Johannesburg to Windhoek was a little less than 2 hours. Getting through Namibian customs took longer than expected but alas, there was the Peace Corps staff and Country Director right behind customs awaiting our arrival. They were excited and pleased to see that none of our luggage was lost or delayed and we all were safe…despite not showering for close to 24 hours. To be honest, we all looked in pretty good shape, since we were required to be dressed in business casual attire (Tip: Namibian culture are very big on dressing to impress).

From the airport, we piled into two vans with our luggage in a third behind us as we sped along (on the left side of the road) toward our first stop for a few days, which is located right outside the city of Windhoek.

The current site we are at (unspecified for safety and security reasons) is gorgeous. If you look up pictures of Namibia, you see pictures of desert, sand, more desert, Himba people, and probably Etosha National Park. Where we are currently residing is an anomaly to that. It’s lush, near water…almost like a retreat, except there’s the possibility of snakes.

It feels like being back in undergrad. You’re with new people, you’re sharing a room, there’s a community bathroom, lots of icebreakers…except you’re in a completely different culture and on another continent. So I guess not completely like undergrad.

The amount of information that the PC PST (Pre Service Training) staff give you is, pardon my french, a shit ton. Granted we don’t go over it all in a few days but we’ve already had interviews, medical check-ins, shots (nothing better than to start your morning) and stories from resource volunteers. We don’t find out our the language we will be learning until Monday but it could be one of the following: Afrikaans, Otijherero, Silozi, and Oshikwanyama. If you’re having trouble reading those, totally fine, listening to them spoken is even harder. But I’m looking forward to learning one of them. I got a bet on Otijherero or Afrikaans.

Food? Meat. Eggs. Fish. Tomatoes. Cucumbers. Worms.

Been here less than a week and I’ve eaten worms. They’re not bad either. Tastes like sorel mushrooms but with more grit. Once you get over how they look, they’re quite the delicacy.

We have tea time everyday at 10AM with Coffee, Tea, and usually a snack (some sort of freshly baked bread with cheese or jam). The place we are staying is entirely run by women who work their asses off raising chickens, running a hyrdoponics farm, knitting and sewing products, crafting glass bead jewelry, and making delicious food for us at breakfast, tea time, lunch, and dinner, along with providing food and drink to all the guests that stop by this place. I cannot give them enough credit. Also, one of our fellow PCV’s, Andy, who imagine Santa Claus but was a sailor for 25 years and has been living in Namibia for almost 3 years, is living here as his site and is affectionately called “Tete Andy” or Grandpa Andy by the Namibian women who work here.

So far about Namibia and Africa. It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful and relaxing (so far until language training and PST classes begin), and the Namibian people are more welcoming than your grandma on Thanksgiving.

I’m trying to tame my excitement about the next few months in PST and finding out our site locations. Fellow Volunteers keep telling us, you will change as a person, expect nothing because you can’t even imagine what you’ll be experiencing, and prepare yourself for a continuum of highs and lows.

…and yes, you can drink the water here.

Cheers from the land of the brave.

PS – If I can download the pictures I took, I’ll put them in a following post. Thanks