Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Things that go bump in the night…

My Mefloquine is giving me recurring nightmares that cockroaches and spiders are crawling in and out of my ears and nose and mouth. I wake up, sit straight up in my bed, press the indiglo button on my watch to illuminate the cave of a mosquito net that I sleep under, but when I search for the bugs, they're nowhere to be found. Dreaming is sort of a new phenomenon for me. I never dreamed before Africa (though I was told many times that everyone dreams, and I simply must be incapable of remembering my dreams). And even after the first month or so of taking the Mefloquine, I still wasn't dreaming much. But, as our PCMO Doren warned us, "If the dreams haven't started yet, don't worry, they will come." Now my nights are like something out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

These dreams wouldn't be so disturbing if there wasn't a possibility of this instance actually occurring. After two weeks of trying every trick in the book to de-roach our house, we have failed miserably. They're reproducing like rabbits, and it's become a battle that I don't think we're ever going to win. For a while, I was at the market everyday, comparing different insecticides. People would look at me funny as I walked home with cans of spray or roach traps. When I would ask the locals for home remedies, they would sort of hesitate, and then say something vague about leaving the door open at night. Finally last week, my counterpart at work suggested: "Just go to bed early." I looked at her a bit confused. "That's what I do. Just go home from work, make some tea, and go directly to bed. Then you never see the things that crawl around in the night." And all this time I was wondering why everyone was acting like I was a crazy person, everyone here has cockroaches, they just live with them! And here I am this strange American girl throwing money into a sinking ship.

My roommate and I have resorted to moving all things "kitchen" outdoors, and cooking over an open flame. Our living accommodations are sort of tricky because we are stuck somewhere between a completely primitive African lifestyle, and a more modern house in a developed nation. In other words, we're not living in a hut with our dinner grazing in the backyard, but we cannot count on running water or electricity either (in fact, I'm at the point now where I just assume that we don't have either of these amenities, because if, on the offchance, I come home one night to lights and a toilet that flushes, I'm overjoyed!). So after accepting defeat and surrendering our livingquarters to the locusts-- who, in their defense, were here first--we've decided to "do as the Namibians do": move all cooking outdoors, and convert our oven into a cupboard for plates and cups. It's not like I would be using the stove if it was working (I can tolerate dry cornflakes by the handful much longer than most people), but I'm hoping that my roommate's cooking will lure the cockroaches outdoors and out of my bed. Wishful thinking? Maybe so.

But life is good here. One of my closest friends, Luke, is in the north where they've been without water for two weeks and have had to resort to drinking boiled rain water (thank god we're in the rainyseason). Which proves my point that no matter how bad you think you have it, there's always someone worse off than you. We traded sob stories in the beginning, but I've stopped telling him about my bugs and lack of electricity because I think he's starting to envy me.

So, for those of you who asked, this is what a typical day in my life in Namibia looks like: awakened by children rushing to breakfast at5:45am, check the floor for scorpions, bucket bathe, examine the fruit for bugs and choose a piece for breakfast, speed walk (I'm usually late) the 3km to work, dodge the cars as I try to cross the bridge from my house to the other side of town, write letters/talk to donors/fight with our computers/meet with teachers/visit schools/prepare workshops/etc. from 8-5, walk home, stop every few minutes to talk with the children walking home from school or the man who sells wood carvings or the women doing their laundry in the river, go for a run/get chased by the school children for 45 minutes (set to music), have a cool drink and a good conversation with the neighbors as we braai outside, check-in with my friends through text msging (one of the few forms of communication here that we utilize to help keep us sane), watch the choir practice in the yard outside my bedroom, journal a little or read a book (currently, it's A Nation is Born: The Inside Story of Namibia's Independence), listen to some death cab for cutie, bug-check my bed and sheets, and by 11:00pm I'm dreaming of bathtubs filled with purple lizards that speak to me in Khoe Khoegowab.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Week One

I'm only in my 1st week of service, and already I can tell that life in PC post-training is going to be completely different. I'm still working to fall into a groove at my new job, but I can see where and how I'm needed, which is encouraging. My title at work is "primary-teacher trainer." I will be working at the Omaruru Teacher's Resource Center, assessing the needs of my regional teachers. Over the next two years, my work will include acquiring computers for our new computer lab as well as funding for an internet connection, preparing and presenting workshops on English and literacy to regional teachers, observing and possibly co-teaching with local teachers in their classrooms, and forming an after-school girls club of some sort-- many exciting things to look forward to!

I was a bit spoiled during PST because I had all my friends and fellow trainees here with me in Omaruru. Now it feels like a bit of a ghost town with the PC presence gone. It's strange being away from all my friends who have become like family to me over the past few months. It's amazing how quickly you can bond with people over dire circumstances! Luckily, training in Omaruru gave me the opportunity to get to know many community members before being sent out on my own, a perk no other volunteer had. Though it's still quieter around here, the daily greetings-- "Goeie more, Ms. Lin!"-- are still all around me. :)

After many last minute changes, and two complete moves to two new houses in two days, I'm finally getting settled into what looks like will be my house for at least the time being. I'm living at a school hostel about 3km from my office. Having originally been a bit disappointed at the thought of having little interaction with Namibia learners, this move suits me well. Though I'm not teaching, I get to hang out with the kids whenever I want, and I don't have to discipline them at all! And also in the final hour (we have learned to never get too comfortable in PC), another volunteer was moved to Omaruru and is living with me. Since she is on a mission to de-cockroach our house, and since I can't seem to get over my phobia of them and am therefore quite useless on the extermination front, she and I have become fast friends. :)

There has been some very exciting news in my family. For those who haven't heard, my brother Nolan and his girlfriend Soozy have gotten engaged! I'm a bit sad to be missing out on all the pre-wedding activities, but this does mean that I, in fact, will be coming home for a vacation before I finish my service here. The big day is looking to be in late August of this year, which actually doesn't seem too far away.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my first priorities here is to get internet at my TRC, which would mean a much more consistent blogging schedule. But until then, please know that I'm doing my best and I'm so glad that some of you are still reading! My permanent address has changed, if anyone is interested in sending me anything:) I'm also working on getting my pics from PST loaded and posted, so stay tuned. Take care of yourselves, gaan goed!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

And then there was one...

After nearly 2 months of intense training, 58 of the original 60 trainees of Nam25 were officially sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers last Friday, January 6th. These past few months have been incredibly draining, and have challenged me in ways I never expected they would. I've laughed a lot, cried a fair amount, opened my eyes and my mind to many new things, and at the same time, questioned the way in which I do many things in my own life.

I can tell that Namibia, and its people, have affected me in ways I cannot quite explain. This is a country that has suffered an extreme amount over the past few decades, and the aftermath of that suffering is apparent in the ways that many Namibians relate to others, especially those like me who, no matter how many historical and cultural sessions I sit through, will never be able to fully comprehend what my new Namibian friends and coworkers have lived through. It is true that all humans suffer, but the suffering or hard times that I have experienced are not even in the same ballpark as the hard times the people of Namibia have seen. Most people I know, including myself, have very little to feel sorry for themselves over.

I have learned that I'm being watched very closely, perhaps because I'm a female, but perhaps simply because I’m different. The ways that I act or interact around or with others have often been misinterpreted, and therefore misjudged, which has made me wonder how many times I've made similar misjudgments about people who are different than me.

Perhaps the most important thing I've learned since being in Africa how truly different all people are. Maybe it was the idealist in me, but before coming here, I honestly believed that deep down, all human beings are the same. While that may be true in many ways, I have come to realize that I am a very different person than the people of Namibia. The way in which many people see and interpret the world around them is so incredibly different from my way of doing things; it is hard to explain. I'm at the point now where it has become interesting and challenging, at the same time, to be an active resident in a culture so foreign from my own. The honeymoon period of being a temporary visitor, a tourist, has passed, and Namibia has let its guard down to me, something that excites me and terrifies me all in the same thought.

I hope you are all well. For those who have not given up on me, thank you so much for reading and sending good thoughts my way. Even though it is hard to respond to each of you, your words of encouragement have been very helpful and have not gone unappreciated. Stay well!